One match to dust off the rust; by the second Test, the bright, gleaming Scotland attacking play will be ready to be shown off in all its glory. At least, that’s the theory. With pure frustration at their own clumsiness the dominant emotion among the Scotland players, at least there was an honest assessment of what went right and what needs to be fixed.
“It was rustiness,” said Vern Cotter, the head coach, afterwards. “We wanted to take the initiative and keep it, so we have to look at how we communicate with each other. If we can improve that then we’ll see the options and take better ones.
Our set-piece was good. It was our first game in that sort of heat. It was very hot out there. There were a few tired bodies at half-time but we pride ourselves on being fit and we said the second half would be where we would get themRYAN WILSON
“We threw the ball back to them several times and we then had to defend again, whether from phase play, scrummaging or lineout. I always thought that keeping composure would be important here, coming off a long trip and having to adapt.”
No doubt at all that, with a lot of key players missing, it was Japan who came off the field feeling generally happier with their performance, earning praise from their interim head coach Mark Hammett for workrate and spirit – ultimately, however, exactly the qualities that spilled into over-enthusiasm that gave away a string of penalties and forced them to play seven minutes with 13 men.
The question for Japan is whether they can maintain the same passion but control it better in the second Test; for Scotland whether they can find some of the speed and adventure that kept Japan in the game long after they should have been dead and buried.
“We can execute and develop our game better,” Cotter said. “I thought we could have a little bit more movement before contact. There’s a whole range of things we can improve but, overall, I’m happy to get the win. I’m happy they didn’t get to within six points at the end. There were parts where we didn’t have that cohesion that we would have liked. Compared to the Ireland game, where I thought we weren’t particularly good at contact, I thought we lifted that.
“It is satisfying to know that we could look at that performance and correct things.”
It was an assessment that did not find much argument from the players. “There are a few things to iron out,” said Ryan Wilson, the No 8.
“I think our discipline was good in attack and we didn’t give much away in defence in terms of penalties. But we lost the ball a few times and we have to clean that up. Our lineout worked well and our set piece was good.
“It was our first game in that sort of heat. It was very hot out there. There were a few tired bodies at half-time but we pride ourselves on being a fit team and we said that the second half would be where we’d get them.
“A few of the Japanese players were going down in the first half so we felt we could really go at them out there.”
For all that, the fact remains that the game turned on a couple of mauls just before half-time, the first when Japan clearly felt they had suckered Scotland into a trap that allowed them to attack the back of the maul.
Ben O’Keefe, the referee, disagreed and then it was sheer stupidity for Hendrik Tui to climb round the back of the next maul when he was already on a warning.
With him in the sin bin, Scotland were soon in total charge of the action and, after a few goes at barging their way in, released the backs where Stuart Hogg’s pass to Tommy Seymour was slapped away, earning the Scots a penalty try and Rikiya Matsuda, the replacement full back, a spell in the sin bin.
Against 13 men, Scotland turned the screw and, if they made hard work of actually getting the try – Willem Nel, the prop, eventually crashing over – in the end it did not really matter. They had enough of a cushion to see out the rest of the game in relative comfort with the two tries and 16 points from the flawless boot of Greig Laidlaw enough to clinch victory.
Japan, however, had also given warning of what to expect next week. Their try was a thing of beauty, starting with a tap-penalty, Amanaki Mafi, the No 8, causing mayhem with a run down the wing and Shota Horie, the captain, finishing off a few seconds later, strolling under the posts with the Scots defence nowhere to be seen.
“Maybe we’ve got to cool it a bit, but it will come,” Wilson said. “There are a few things to fix but we will be going into the next game with a positive mindset. We maybe forced a few things too much out there.
“We’re a team that is trying to play a bit. But there were a few times when we maybe underestimated them at the breakdown. They are very quick and good over the ball. That’s another thing that we’ll have to look at.”