A rundown of what's hot and what's not from the second Japan-Scotland Test
Scotland maintained their winning record against Japan with this seventh victory in seven Tests – but it was an error-strewn performance from the visitors at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium. In fact, Japan impressed in attack far more than their Scottish opponents, scoring a sensational first-half try and pressurising the line regularly in the second 40. The Scots, in contrast, could not create even one try-scoring opportunity and had to rely on the boot of Greig Laidlaw to grind out a narrow win from a succession of penalties.
Try-tastic – Japan produced one of the tries of 2016 in the 20th minute. First, they should be congratulated for backing themselves to attack from deep in their own 22. Within seconds full-back Rikiya Matsuda had taken the ball up to halfway and their speed of play was even more impressive as they spread the ball to the right and moved up the pitch. Amanaki Mafi drew in two Scottish defenders, offloaded to Shokei Kin, who then fed a simple try-scoring pass to scrum-half Kaito Shigeno. Fast of feet, hands and mind, simple movements but hugely effective ones – it was a quite brilliant score. And a team try too.
The crowd – It wasn’t a sellout but there was a big turn out at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo, the stands awash with cherry-and-white shirts. They were engrossed in the game too, ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ ringing out in reaction to different pieces of play, the noise undulating depending on the situation, and plenty of applause throughout. The national team’s performances at RWC 2015 have brought a new audience to the game in this country and let’s hope it keeps growing as we head towards Japan’s World Cup in three years’ time.
Quick and slick Japan – Everyone knows how good Japan played at last year’s World Cup and they continued to impress with this performance. They may have been missing key players like Michael Leitch, Ayumu Goromaru and Fumiaki Tanaka, but their organisation was superb. They were far quicker than Scotland at getting the ball away from the breakdown and were far more reliable at keeping the ball in hand than their opponents. Passes would zip left and right, the support player invariably where they were supposed to be. As Henry Pyrgos said afterwards “Japan play at a really high tempo”, while Vern Cotter added that the hosts had “lifted the intensity” from the first Test.
Laidlaw’s boot – There was little in this performance to warm Scottish hearts but Greig Laidlaw, a second-half replacement, stepped up to slot two long-range penalties from just inside the Japanese half to put the visitors in front with ten minutes to go. His fourth successful kick in the 77th minute then put the game beyond Japan’s reach.
Scotland’s first half – Pushed around at the scrum, inaccurate at the lineout and handling errors across the park: the first 40 minutes were not pretty for Scotland. They couldn’t assert any authority up front, either at the set-piece or the breakdown, where they had to commit numbers to retain possession. And when they did get possession with which to attack, more often than not there would be a knock-on or dropped pass, resulting in the attack fizzling out.
It was little wonder they changed their entire front row at half-time – though that only served to highlight Scotland’s lack of depth in that area – while the introduction of Greig Laidlaw after 50 minutes brought a little more direction to the team’s play as they kicked for territory. However, they still struggled to cope with Japan’s slick attack and build any momentum of their own. Yes, it was the last game of an extremely long and onerous season, and yes, the conditions would have been uncomfortable, but this was a lacklustre performance from a team that had showed such signs of improvement earlier in the season.
Queues – A line of people snaked alongside the stadium and back on itself even 90 minutes before kick-off. They were queuing to get inside the stadium itself but having only one gate open meant rather a long wait in hot and humid conditions. Not ideal organisation and something that should be looked at for future games.
The hooter – There’s letting the crowd know it’s half-time and then there’s letting the whole locale know. If anyone was catching 40 winks as the first half drew to a close – unlikely as there was plenty on the pitch to entertain – they would have been rudely awakened by the extremely loud hooter. It was a shock to the system and it was the same again at full-time. Cover those ears!
JAPAN: R Matsuda (PM Poseti 78); M Sa’u, T Bennetts (K Ono 56), H Tatekawa, Y Sasakura; Y Tamura, K Shigeno (K Uchida 62); K Inagaki (M Mikami 72), S Horie (capt, T Kizu 61), K Hatakeyama (S Kakinaga 56), H Ono (K Yatabe 66), N Kotaki, H Tui (R Holani 61), S Kin, A Mafi.
Try: Shigeno. Con: Tamura. Pens: Tamura 3.
SCOTLAND: S Hogg; T Seymour, M Scott, P Horne, S Maitland (S Lamont 80); R Jackson (H Jones 58), H Pyrgos (capt, G Laidlaw 50); R Sutherland (G Reid ht), S McInally (F Brown ht), M Low (WP Nel ht), R Gray, J Gray, J Strauss, J Barclay (T Swinson 68), R Wilson (J Hardie 45).
Pens: Pyrgos 3, Laidlaw 4.
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