Japan 13 - 26 Scotland: Scots win first Test

Scotland's Matt Scott sprints away during the match against Japan. Picture: Getty
Scotland's Matt Scott sprints away during the match against Japan. Picture: Getty
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Nobody said it was going to be easy, and those who predicted a tough contrast of styles in a hard game were pretty much spot on the money as Scotland exploited a flurry of penalties and yellow cards against Japan to come away with a win they just about deserved.

Take away the few minutes of madness from the home side just before half time, though and it would have been a radically different game with no guarantees at all that the Scots would have won as they spurned scoring chances, fell to a sucker punch try from the hosts and generally struggled to control the game.

Nor is the aftermath going to look much prettier, with Alasdair Dickinson hobbling off in only the third minute, Willem Nel looking as though he might be struggling when he limped off in the second half and Duncan Taylor also an initial doubt for next week.

Still, a win is a win and Japan these days are not the mugs of old. Scotland may have rattled in a flurry of late tries when the teams met in the Rugby World Cup, but everybody knows that had more to do with exhaustion than Scottish brilliance and there was never going to be a repeat.

The warnings were there from early on. A bit of inattention as Japan were awarded a penalty deep in their own half, cost them dear. A quick tap and Japan had escaped up the wing with Amanaki Mafi – remember him making hay at Scotland’s expense in the World Cup game? – making 70 metres before he was caught.

A quick ruck and they had men clear, Yu Tamura, the stand-off, popped up as the link man and over went Shota Horie, his hooker and captain, for the opening try.

By then Greig Laidlaw, the Scots scrum half and captain, had already kicked his first penalty, so it was not all disaster, but they were still finding it hard to cope with the all-action style and the pace of the Japan play.

The Scotland attacking tactics struggled to get past throwing one pass out to a big forward, who rumbled up, was tackled to set up another ruck. Reset and repeat using another forward. Not exactly difficult for the gutsy Japan defence to cope with.

In contrast, Japan wanted to run everything with Mafi roaming the field in the hunt for space where he could use his surprising pace and power to cause mayhem while every line out, every free kick and most penalties were taken quickly as Japan did their best to play it all at a frenetic pace.

They did occasionally stretch the Scots tacklers, but did not again manage to break the visiting defence, and in the end it was the stodgier Scottish tactics that proved effective. There was an element of luck in the way it broke for Scotland, with Japan clearly feeling they avoided a maul when Hendrick Tui, the flanker, came in the back to try to sack Scottish possession.

Scotland mauled again and when the same player clearly came in the side, Ben O’Keefe, the New Zealander in charge of his second Test match, sent him for a ten minute rest.

With Scotland already in charge of the set-piece, this could have been a decisive advantage but it was soon to get better.

Another maul created a series of forward drives before, at last, the ball was released to the backs with the home defence stretched wide.

A try was obviously on but when Stuart Hogg, the full-back, tried to feed Tommy Seymour on the wing. Rikiya Matsuda, the replacement full back, deliberately slapped it away, earning a seat in the sin bin for his troubles and a penalty try for Scotland.

There was enough time for Tamura to miss a long-range penalty before the break, but Scotland must have known that the early minutes of the second half against 13 men were going to be all-important.

It certainly worked out that way, with Seymour taking the kick off cleanly to set things up and though Damien Hoyland, on the opposite wing, was caught inches short after brilliantly taking another cross kick, Scotland had to make the pressure tell with Nel eventually barging over in typical prop fashion.

With Laidlaw converting, they had opened out a 13-point lead that should have made things comfortable, though Japan were refusing to let them relax with the pace of their handing game causing problems.

Back to full strength, Japan cut the deficit with Tamura’s second penalty but they were struggling to match the Scots for power and the advantage was quickly restored to 13 points with Laidlaw’s fourth penalty after a solo break from Hogg had produced a move that deserved even more.

Seymour maybe should have made more of a long chase that ended with him booting the ball dead but Scotland also had a huge let-off when Yasutaka Tatekawa, the centre, dropped a sitter of a pass with nobody between him and the try line. In the end, Laidlaw, was happy to boot the ball out and accept the win.

Japan: Try: Horie. Con: Tamura. Pens: Tamura 2.

Scotland: Tries: Penalty, Nel. Cons: Laidlaw 2. Pens: Laidlaw 4.

Japan: K Matsushima; P Paea, T Bennetts, H Tatekawa, Y Sasakura; Y Tamura, K Shigeno; K Inagaki, S Horie, K Hatakeyama, H Ono, N Kotaki, H Tui, S Kin, A Mafi.

Scotland: S Hogg (Glasgow); T Seymour (Glasgow), D Taylor (Saracens), M Scott (Gloucester), D Hoyland (Edinburgh); R Jackson (Harlequins), G Laidlaw (C) (Gloucester); A Dickinson (Edinburgh), S McInally (Edinburgh), W Nel (Edinburgh), R Gray (Toulouse), J Gray (Glasgow), J Barclay (Scarlets), J Hardie (Edinburgh), R Wilson (Glasgow). Subs: F Brown (Glasgow) for McInally (48min); R Sutherland (Edinburgh) for Dickinson (3); M Low (Exeter) for Nel (64); T Swinson (Glasgow) for R Gray (66); D Denton (Bath) for Wilson (64); P Horne (Glasgow) for Taylor (66); S Maitland (Saracens) for Hoyland (56).

Referee: B O’Keefe (NZl).

ATTENDANCE: 24,113.

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