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WINNING momentum will propel Scotland towards their World Cup Final Qualification Tournament campaign (which is expected to be played early in 2022 in Dubai), after they ran in six tries to despatch a Japanese side who fought bravely but were always up against it following the 19th minute sending-off of second-row Seina Sato for a high tackle on Rhona Lloyd.
Tries from Lloyd book-ended the home team’s scoring, and she was deservedly named player-of-the-match, ahead of a number of solid candidates amongst her team-mates. However, but it wasn’t a complete performance, with head coach Bryan Easson particularly frustrated at how his side let Japan back into the match during the second quarter.
“We worked quite hard last week on getting that consistency back in our performance and the first 20 minutes was good, but the second 20 was not so good and there was a few choice words at half-time,” he said. “In the second half we really got back to basics and I thought our game management and our kicking game was excellent. Our kick-chase was good so we really pressurised Japan in their half, and when we got ball in hand it was about carrying hard and attacking space, which was excellent.
“If we are going to continue to be a good side then we have to become ruthless and that doesn’t happen by going rogue and playing as individuals, it is about playing as a team and sticking to the plan,” he added. “Our set-piece was going really well, and Jade [Konkel] had been carrying really well off the five-man line-out we were using, but then we started trying intricate plays when there was no need for that. So, we were just very clear at half-time that we didn’t need to change what we had been doing well.”
Scotland started in lively fashion, with Sarah Bonar wading through the middle of a ruck to sack the Japanese scrum-half, while Rachel Malcolm, Konkel, Christine Belisle, Bonar and Lloyd all carried with intent. On the back of this, it looked like the hosts were going to take a fifth minute lead when the ball was sent through the hands towards the left touchline, but Lisa Thomson couldn’t quite get the killer pass away to Megan Gaffney.
The Scots kept their foot on the gas, however, and after a Lana Skeldon and Bonar burst up the middle of the park, a quick transfer of play to the right wing created an overlap for Hannah Smith. It looked like she only needed to touch the ball down, but she generously fed Lloyd on her outside, who was happy to claim the points.
Japan were then reduced to 14 players when Sato was red-carded for a high tackle on Lloyd in which shoulder made contact with head. It was the correct decision and there was no complaints from the culprit, who left the field amid a flurry of apologetic bows. However, it was perhaps not quite what the Scots needed given that this is the only full-blooded hit-out they are going to have before that qualifying tournament in the New Year, so 80 minutes of 15 versus 15 might have been preferable.
There was an almost immediate demonstration of the advantage this gave the hosts when they blasted their way to a penalty at the next scrum, kicked to the corner, and then motored the line-out drive home, with Skeldon getting the downward pressure.
Scotland then lost their way for a period and Japan showed plenty of mettle to take advantage, getting off the mark with a try by hooker Nijiho Nagata, and it looked like the visitors had squared it when blindside flanker Seina Saito broke from the base of a ruck and romped home from 20 yards, but Rachel McLachlan and Lloyd did well to get back and stop the grounding.
Momentum stayed with the home team, and they finally got the reward all that pressure deserved on the stroke half-time when Sachiko Kato muscled her way to a try under the shadow of the posts, setting up an easy conversion for Ai Hirayama which gave the visitors a two point advantage at the turnaround.
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The chance to regroup came at just the right time for Scotland, and they started the second-half in determined fashion, with Chloe Rollie probing from deep for the first time in the match, and Lloyd being given a chance to pin her ears back on the right, requiring a fine cover tackle from opposite number Hinano Nagura.
Scotland recaptured the lead after just three minutes of this second period when some sharp offloading opened up a space for Rollie to sprint into. When she was closed down, a long, looping pass was sent out to Gaffney, who still had to show a fair bit of power and pace to Beattie last defender. Helen Nelson nailed the tricky conversion.
Just two minutes later, an excellent kick-chase from Lloyd created an opportunity for Rollie to run again in open prairie, and this time she decided – correctly – that she didn’t need Gaffney on her outside, claiming her team’s fourth try of the contest for herself.st.
There was echoes of the first half when Scotland responded to going two tries clear by going off the boil, although it wasn’t anywhere as dramatic this time and they didn’t concede any points before getting back on top, with Thomson going over after hitting an excellent line with real pace just past the hour mark, to set up a Nelson conversion.
Replacements Evie Wills (one cap) and Shona Campbell (uncapped) wasted little time in marking their arrival on the scene, making good ground with ball in hand. Campbell also got back well to tidy-up a long kick into space by Japan to feed Rollie for one of her trademark mazy runs for deep.
Not to be outdone by these new kids on the block, Lloyd on the opposite wing then showed how much gas she has when chasing down Sarah Law‘s searching kick up the tramlines, the exhibited some sharp football skills to hack ahead once before swooping in to ground the ball as it bobbled over the try-line.
Prop Anne Young also made her debut late in the match, as Easson looks to build the depth of the squad ahead of what he hopes will be a busy 2022.
Scotland: C Rollie; R Lloyd, H Smith (E Wills 58), L Thomson, M Gaffney (S Campbell 60); H Nelson (S Law 64), H Maxwell; L Bartlett (L Cockburn 39-41, 50), L Skeldon (M Wright 64), C Belisle (A Young 72), E Wassell, S Bonar ((L McMillan 58), R Malcolm, R McLachlan, (E Gallagher 58), J Konkel.
Japan: A Hirayama; N Taniguchi (Y Ito. 55), M Furuta, K Kobayashi, H Nagura; A Otsuka, M Abe (M Tsukui 59); S Minami (W Kitano 45), N Nagata (A Kokaji 58), S Kato, K Tamai (A Sakurai, 48, M Yamamoto 55), Y Saito, S Saito, I Nagata (M Suzuki 48), A Nagai.
Scotland: Tries: Lloyd 2, Skeldon, Gaffney, Rollie, Thomson; Con: Nelson 3
Japan: Tries: Nagata, Kato; Con: Hirayama.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 5-0; 10-0; 10-5; 10-10; 10-12 (h-t) 15-12; 17-12; 22-12; 24-12; 29-12; 31-12; 36-12.
Red card –
Japan: Y Sato (19mins)