Image courtesy of Scottish Rugby/SNS Group
JOB done in hot and humid Tokyo. Scotland return home from their two match tour to East Asia with a couple of wins over one of the world’s most exciting up-and-coming nations, they have slipped past France to seventh in the world rankings, and have gained some valuable on-the-ground knowledge of the country which will host the next World Cup. But the boys in blue will not return home on a wave euphoria, having failed to really impose themselves against a Japanese outfit missing a raft of key men.
Scotland have struggled to click as an attacking force. At the end of a long season and in hostile weather conditions for a European team the Scots looked particularly jaded in this one, and their error count in the first half was shocking. This was not helped by Japan’s willingness to concede penalties rather than let the opposition build momentum, but surely the team should be able to rise above that by now.
On the flip side, their defence has been admirable these last two weeks. And their scrum has dominated – even when stalwart props WP Nel and Alasdair Dickinson were not involved at the start of this match – although they will face sterner challenges in this area in the autumn when Australia, Argentina and Georgia will provide the opposition.
Japan scored the only try of the match with a spellbinding surge up the right touchline midway through the first half, launched from 60 metres out by full-back Riyika Matsuda, carried on by the excellent number eight Amanaki Mafi, and finished off by scrum-half Kaito Shigeno.
The hosts deservedly led 16-9 with 30 minutes to go, with Scotland failing miserably to generate the space or momentum required to claw their way back into the contest against a ferociously committed opposition. The only really effective method of relieving the pressure seemed to be the long, searching kicking game of Stuart Hogg. Poor decision making and haphazard ball retention from Japan when they got close to the Scottish line was all that prevented their lead from being greater.
Talisman Greig Laidlaw was sent on to help calm nerves and refocus the beleaguered troops, and four penalties from the gritty Borderer rescued the situation.
A generous adjective for this performance would be ‘professional’, but words such as ‘scrappy’ and ‘uninspiring’ could just as easily and accurately be used.
Japan: Try: Shigeno; Con: Tamura; Pen: Tamura 3.
Scotland: Pen: Pyrgos 3, Laidlaw: 4.
Japan: R Matsuda; M Sau, T Bennetts, H Tatekawa, Y Sasakura; Y Tamura, K Shigeno; K Inagaki, S Horie (captain), K Hatakeyama, H Ono, N Kotaki, H Tui, S Kin, A Mafi.
Replacements: T Kizu, M Mikami, S Kakinaga, K Yatabe, R Holani, K Uchida, K Ono, M Paea.
Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, M Scott, P Horne, S Maitland (S Lamont 79); R Jackson (H Jones 58), H Pyrgos (G Laidlaw 50); R Sutherland (G Reid 41), S McInally (F Brown 41), M Low (W Nel 41), R Gray, J Gray, J Strauss, J Barclay (T Swinson 69), R Wilson (J Hardie 45).