Scotland v Japan: stuttering hosts end Autumn series with a win

Stuart Hogg becomes the nation's record try scorer as home side make it three-from-four in this Autumn Test schedule

Scotland stand-off Finn Russell kicks the ball under Japanese pressure. Image: © Craig Watson -
Scotland stand-off Finn Russell kicks the ball under Japanese pressure. Image: © Craig Watson -

Scotland 29

Japan 20

DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield Stadium

A WINNING end to Scotland’s Autumn Test schedule, meaning their record for the series is three and one, but this was not the performance Gregor Townsend’s side will have wanted to have signed off with.

The home side generally struggled to keep control of possession for long enough to really stress their opponents, and their indiscipline meant that Japan were able to stay in touch on the scoreboard throughout.

It wasn’t a disastrous performance but neither was it an emphatic demonstration of the progress we have been assured that this team has made over the course of 2020 and 2021. This Japan side is not of the same calibre as the battle-hardened outfit the Scots lost to at the 2019 World Cup.

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Next up is the 2022 Six Nations, starting with a home match against England on 5th February. It is a game that Scotland will have no problem motivating themselves for, but they will have to play with a lot more control and accuracy if they want to double-up on this year’s historic win at Twickenham.

Having controlled possession for the first three and a half minutes, Japan then gave away a penalty through second-row James Moore advancing in front of the kicker, which allowed Finn Russell to kick for touch, establishing the field position from which Duhan van der Merwe joined the forwards and rumbled over for the opening try a few minutes later. Russell’s conversion came back off the post.

A sequence of fairly soft penalties conceded by Scotland allowed Japan a quick route back into the match with a fairly straight forward shot at goal which Rikiya Matsuda had no problem gobbling up.

The lesson was not learnt, and after two more not-rolling away penalties, the second committed by Chris Harris, Matsuda found himself lining up another shot at goal on the quarter-hour mark, although he wasn’t successful with his effort from wide on the right this time.

Scotland threatened when Sam Johnson toe-poked a clever grubber past the Japanese defensive line for midfield Harris to chase down, but the visitors did well to tidy up and Jamie Ritchie gave away another penalty against the hosts for hands in a ruck.

Scott Cummings was the next culprit, with referee Brendon Pickerill having a word with captain Stuart Hogg about the slowness of his players in getting away from the tackle area, warning that cards would be issued if things didn’t improve. This time, Matsuda had no problem helping himself to three more easy points from almost directly in front of the posts to edge the visitors ahead.

It had been frustrating first 25 minutes for the home side and their supporters, but then Hogg brought Murrayfield to life when he started an attack by running the ball back from deep, then finished it off after a handful of forceful phases pulled the Japanese backline all out of shape. It was his 25th Scotland try, meaning he had moved out on his own as the nations most prolific try-scorer, having equalled that record previously held by Tony Stanger and Ian Smith with his brace against South Africa last week.

Scotland finished the half with a flourish when a set-move off a scrum on the left saw Russell sweep outside his centres then feed Darcy Graham with a miss-two pass through the eye of a needle, and the winger jinked back inside Japans’ scrambling defence to score. Russell added the touchline conversion for good measure.


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The start of the second half followed a familiar pattern to much of the first half, and Pickerill finally lost patience, sending Jamie Bhatti to the sin-bin when he ended up on the wrong side of a tackle right in front of his own posts. Matsuda once again kicked the easy points.

Buoyed by this, Japan pressed again, aided by – mindless chip kick from Russell which gifted them possession. Second-row Jack Cornelsen sent prop Craig Millar on a charge up the middle of the park, and Kotaro Matsushima went close on the right, before play was pulled back for a Scots offside and Matsuda made it 19-12.

Scotland managed to wrestle back some control and not only did they survive the remainder of that period with 14-men without conceding any more points, they also got themselves into a position for Russell to kick an offside penalty into the corner just before being restored to full complement.

At this point, Stuart McInally came off the bench at hooker to find his jumper at the line-out, and he was then the man who got the downward pressure after the hosts had driven over the Japanese try-line.

Japan bounced back when an excellent 50-22 from Ryoto Nakamura earned a close-range line-out. The visitors did well to win the ball under pressure, and replacement back-row Tevita Tatafu took advantage of Scotland leaving themselves short on deck by going all-out to win the ball in the air, spinning off the maul and driving over the line.

When a Sam Johnson offside with 10 minutes to go allowed Matsuda to kick his fifth penalty of the afternoon, it was back to a six point game, which really wasn’t great from a Scotland perspective given that they were 4-1 up in the try-count and hadn’t really been under the sort of pressure to justify the avalanche of penalties they had conceded.

With two minutes to go, Scotland opted to kick a penalty rather than go for the corner, and Russell bisected the posts. It sealed the win but highlighted that the home side had not got to where they wanted to be during this contest.



Teams –

Scotland: S Hogg; D Graham (B Kinghorn 63), C Harris, S Johnson, D van der Merwe; F Russell , A Price (G Horne, 61); J Bhatti (P Schoeman 53), G Turner (S McInally 53), Z Fagerson (J Sebastian 63), S Cummings (S Skinner 71), G Gilchrist, J Ritchie (M Fagerson 61), H Watson (P Schoeman 49-53, D Richardson 71), J Bayliss.

Japan: R Yamanka (Y Tamura 61); K Matsushima, S Nakano (D Riley 41), R Nakamura, S Fifita; R Matsuda, Y Nagare (N Saito 71); C Millar (K Inagaki 61), A Sakate, A Valu (S Kakinaga 61), J Cornelsen, J Moore, M Leitch (T Tatafu 61), P Labuschagne, K Himeno.


Scorers –

Scotland: Tries: Van der Merwe, Hogg; Graham, McInally; Cons: Russell 3; Pen: Russell.

Wales: Try: Tatafu; Pen: Matsuda 5.

Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 5-0; 5-3; 5-6; 10-6; 12-6; 17-6; 19-6 (h-t) 19-9; 19-12; 24-12; 26-12; 26-17;  26-20; 29-20.


Yellow cards –

Scotland: Bhatti (42mins)

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About David Barnes 3032 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. As Vern Cotter said Its hard to get a handle on this team, recent wins away to England France and Wales and a 75% success rate during the Autumn but still doubts persist. Yesterday (especially) it appeared we are a team that’s not very well coached. No structure and a over reliance on moments of inspiration that than building/earning the right to play.
    You can’t have 2 centres who are foremost solid and don’t keep the opposing team honest.
    Lack physicality in the forwards, Watson doesn’t look 100% fit to me.
    Chance gone to give Crosbie Richardson real game time

    • I agree with you John. Harris and Johnson are solid defenders but being there yesterday it’s clear neither can break the defensive line. Neither have a step or any real gas. I think Johnson needs to be dropped for a quick and distributing 12. Finn looks like he’s having to work very hard to bring in the wings who both score tries while not seeing enough of the ball. Too much emphasis on defence we have to roll the dice a bit at 12 in order to win big games. Disappointing we didn’t try anyone else at 12 at any point yesterday. Wish we didn’t box kick as we almost never seem to collect it, and I think on form velacott should have had a chance over these few matches. To echo others I do wonder if someone else could get more out of this squad. Also why is dalziel out forwards coach? Doesn’t appear he’s adding anything.

      • Redpath would be 12 if fit, he adds a distribution option to the MF. Harris and Johnsom are good players but the way we play we need boys who can do stuff in the backs….Jones Hutchinson Steyn Bennett

  2. I’m wondering if this constant selection ‘tinkering’ by Gregor T is causing inconsistent performances by Scotland – it’s all very well to identify a wider player pool BUT …a bingo machine comes to mind
    Let’s face it the performance against Japan wasn’t pretty — 7 changes to the starting XV from SA game – Honestly what have we learnt moving forward ?
    Give the boys a chance to build familiarity with each other on the park methinks

    • The fundamental problem is the coach. He should have been binned after the last World Cup. He will be binned after the next one. Unfortunately we are treading water under his stewardship

    • A reasonable observation regarding the ‘chopping and changing’ however at some stage you have to bite the bullet and have a look-see at the player on the park in competition rather than training.
      Hopefully against England in the first 6N Fixture our best XV [and bench] will be on the field, it will have to be otherwise it will be a hard day at the office.
      Hopefully GT and the team have a ‘cunning plan’ looking at France Ireland and England we will need one.

  3. Having just watched the All Blacks v France game it puts our performance into perspective. The Scotland game was 2nd rate in terms of the skill level and physicality.

    I think the main concern from me today was our game management and inability to stop giving away endless penalties. You know with Japan that they will run and run and their ability to recycle the ball quickly is top rate – better than ours. So try and starve them of the ball but what do we do – we kick the ball back to them on numerous occasions with long infield kicks that were not contestable purely giving them the ball back and then allow then to go through another 20+ phases before we see the ball again. If you are trying to get a lot of tackling practice then its a good idea but if you want a sizeable win then its not because you don’t see enough of the ball. When we did get into their 22 and strung a few phases together then we scored quickly but we just didn’t do it enough.

    I love Finn but today some of his cross field kicks were wild – 20 yards overhit and a few passes that went straight into touch, no decent chip kicks or grubbers. I accept his high risk style but if he was that inaccurate against a top side wed get hammered.

    Ive always been a fan of George Horne but were not seeing the free flowing support running and sniping that he’s best at. His passing seems very laboured and lacks zip – I think he shows up best when Glasgow are throwing it around but not so sure now at International level.

    We look behind France. Ireland and England based on recent performances but hey the 6 Nations is a different animal and we may do better than I think.

    • Behave….. Finn wasn’t kicking like that from choice it’s because he has nothing to work with in terms of centres. It’s clear he’s hates how we are setting up and it’ll b worse in 6n when forwards don’t win decent ball at set piece if we don’t improve urgently

    • I don’t think we were watching the same game. When Horne came on Finn had visibly more time due to the improved service.

  4. I think there’s plenty of power and dynamism in the front row: The Schoe, McInally, Turner (who’s looked a bit of colour lately but is a real wrecking ball at his best), Zander and Kebble are all good at getting across the gainline. If you watch Glasgow, Kebble often acts first receiver,particularly when Glasgow are shifted back through an attack or kick; one-paced, perhaps, but he gets the momentum going back the right way. Zander,another destructive presence gets pilloried but has come on immeasurably since De Villiers has come in – sometimes he does indeed need to cool it however. It’s behind where the issues lie. Our second rows ought to be bossing Japan at the breakdown: Gilchrist puts himself about but Cummings I have seen far too many times doing the ol’ pretend, fresh air tackle, hardly conducive to success against packs like Ireland’s. Cummings has his attributes with his lineout skills, athleticism and unusually good run timing onto the ball but dominating the breakdown is not his forte. All the backrows, Haining excepted, are all-rounders as opposed to specialist ball carriers, jacklers etc. Bradbury has the tools but, like Johnny Beattie jnr, disappears and strikes as mercurial.

  5. At around 65/70 minutes we became very flat and static in possession – no depth in the back line, no one running on to the ball, much like the SA game. Thankfully today it was just a blip and we picked it up again for the final 5 minutes but it’s something to be wary of in future.

    The discussion between Hogg and Russell at the final pen was quite entertaining. Glad the skipper prevailed and we took the points!

  6. Not really sure what to make of that game. On the score board it looked close but it was 4 tries to 1 so I assume Japan benefited from too many penalties which has been a bit of a problem this series. Positives we have introduced some new guys Schoeman has looked good, VDM and Price have improved , Hogg has looked his attacking best, we have scored tries , we still have a lot of depth in the pool in a range of positions. The negatives Finn has been poor, Kinghorn has not really developed as we thought he would , we still could do with a bigger 8 aka Strauss used to be, we maybe should have tried Finn and Hastings at 12 and 10 particularly against Tonga. However all in all beating Australia gave us a positive balance for the series.

  7. Mediocre at best performance which told us very little except that we need to improve a lot to live with France England n Ireland in 6n….the glaring contest between Finn n Hogg after full time was non too encouraging either. Hopefully that gets sorted asap as there was a lot of chat that may have been a big part of Finn leaving squad last time. Forwards aren’t at the races at set pieces afor top tier rugby and it will cost us if we don’t sort it immediately. Converting flankers to hookers won’t work if they won’t throw in properly. There is no creativity or pace in midfield hence Finn having to resort to kick pass so often. One of Redpath Hutchison or Jones has to come in for eiter Harris or Johnston. As others have said we still need a brute at 8. We have plenty of neat tidy performers but we aren’t making yardage off our carries. Worryingly we are conceding soft pens especially in rucks. Looking at Ireland last week we are nowhere near hitting that level of intensity or execution.

  8. Really frustrating watch. There are quite a few individuals in this team who on this showing I think believe their own hype a bit too much. Didn’t feel like Scotland turned up wanting to earn the win, there was a feeling all over the pitch, at least in their execution (or lack of) that it would just happen. It is a measure of how far we have come in a short two years that we are disappointed with a win like this, but when you look at the strides that Ireland and England have made in the past 12 months, if we play like that in the Six Nations it could be a tough watch. If this group are serious about being ‘once in a generation’ to quote John Barclay, they really need to be putting away a Japan side like this one with far more power and precision. Penalty count really disappointing and almost all were sloppy, lazy examples.

    To finish on a high note, great to see Stuart Hogg get the try scoring record, not that the Irish commentator I was listening on FloSports in the US bothered to mention it…

  9. Old enough to remember when Scotland were the perennial “plucky underdogs” who played lovely rugby but lost more times than not.Win against Japan was as ugly as a warthogs bum but it was a win and relegated Japan to the plucky underdogs role usually one we played.Win pretty win ugly but just win…remember Brazil were always happy to win by just scoring one more goal than their opposition.

  10. McInally definitely the number one hooker, throw generally accurate and makes yards when he carries. When Horne came on Finn seemed to have more space – does his pass have 5 yards on Price, or is it just his speed from the back of the ruck? Can’t complain about the backs today. I didn’t used to be a fan of Van Der Merwe, but his all-round game has improved considerably and he’s cemented in place on the wing for 6N. To echo another comment ‘underpowered’ seems to be the way to describe the Scottish pack.

  11. As Donald McDonald commented earlier a win is a win, however it was a difficult game to watch. I thought Josh Bayliss showed up well, Darcy Graham took the try well stepping inside three Japanese covering players and Duhan vd Merwe temporarily joining the ‘Forwards’, and although I am pleased for Stuart Hogg taking the record, Ian Smith managed it in a lot less Internationals and Tony Stanger still has ‘that Try’ against the Old Enemy.
    Other than that, tactically they didn’t seem to get a grip, the penalty count as David Barnes points out basically kept Japan in the game and frankly we will have to be much better than this come the Six Nations when it comes to discipline and the tactical on-field decision making, for instance with a man in the Bin kicking the ball to the opposition is not ‘percentage’ Rugby.

    • Agreed – Scotland won but overall were “unconvincing”….

      Your point about SH overtaking the 24 successful touch-downs achieved by both Tony Stanger and the so-called “Flying Scotsman” Ian Scott Smith (curiously, born in Australia, raised in NZ, and schooled in England!) highlights the differing historical contexts….. Hogg’s record was achieved in 88 matches, Smith’s in a mere 32, Tony’s in 52 Scotland appearances.

      • Ooops didn’t realise the history of Ian Smith, the jeopardy of making opinions with only partial knowledge, however the relevance of the comment was the games played differential, thanks for the additional information.

  12. McInally definitely the number one hooker, throw generally accurate and makes yards when he carries. When Horne came on Finn seemed to have more space – does his pass have 5 yards on Price, or is it just his speed from the back of the ruck? Can’t complain about the backs today. I didn’t used to be a fan of Van Der Merwe, but his all-round game has improved considerably and he’s cemented in place on the wing for 6N. To echo another comment ‘underpowered’ seems to be the way to describe the Scottish pack.

  13. Positives:

    – 3 out of 4 wins over the Autumn, we’d have taken that.

    – D’arcy Graham’s try was a peach, as was Hogg’s second last week.

    – Dylan Richardson looks as though he’s got some dynamism and ‘go forward’.

    – Our defensive form continues, lineout splaf for Japan try aside.


    – 29-20 is not good enough against Japan at home. Some might say a win’s a win – it is, but the 2019 result was disastrous, regardless of home impetus Japan accumulated, driven by the emotion extreme weather conjured.

    – Jamie Bhatti, Blair Kinghorn and Scott Cummings are not international standard. Cummings has his fans but is underpowered, Kinghorn is erratic and not the bravest man on a rugby pitch, Bhatti is a penalty machine, likewise insufficiently powered.

    – Too many penalties! Most infuriating game since Wales at home.

    – Watson was anonymous, and I am a fan of his work.

    – Regressing to trying to force it by going too wide, too early as per 2019. Japan seem best dealt with by direct means, we had them on toast at scrum-time.

    – Rory Lawson’s overuse of the word ‘whereby’ in incorrect context 😁

    • Agree with your thoughts on Kinghorn and Bhatti but not Cummings. He’s just back from injury and I think over the last two years he’s put in some good performances. I still think he’s got enough power and physicality and a bit more athleticism than some 2nd rows and he can still improve.

      • He has that Ross, he’s still young so maybe it’ll come in time. Certainly won’t do any harm goin up against SA clubs new to the league, hopefully some time in the saddle in Europe too. Great to see some familiar faces in earlier article btw Offside Line, albeit in sad circumstances with Ernie Michie’s passing. Colin Baillie is a man much loved in these environs – inimitable indeed as Ron said – and I’m probably not alone in still calling him ‘Sir’ out of habit when present 🤣


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