The last time Japan were in the neighbourhood they finished on the ugly end of a 100-point hiding. In the interim the gulf between these two sides has been reduced to a more manageable gap but still it proved too wide for the visitors to bridge yesterday afternoon.
Scorers: Scotland: Tries: Seymour 2, Laidlaw, Dickinson, Weir, Lamont. Cons: Laidlaw 2, Weir. Pens: Laidlaw 2; Japan: Tries: Fukuoka 2. Cons: Goromaru 2. Pen: Goromaru.
Had the Scots taken every opportunity that came their way they might even have got close to three figures again as Japan’s tenacity proved fleeting.
Everyone can take something away from this match. The visitors were holding on to Scotland’s coat tails before the final quarter when the scoreboard ran away from them.
The home side will need to tighten up their first-up defence, which was breached far too often, and become a little more accurate in attack, but no one can argue with 42 points when the All Blacks managed 54 – and if the crowd were tempted to take 40 winks in the first 40 minutes they got good value for their money after the break with seven tries to enjoy.
Overall Scotland scored six tries to just two from Japan, but the visitors at least had the consolation of scoring the best of the bunch. Kenki Fukuoka was a thorn in Scotland’s side all afternoon.
The flying winger claimed both of his team’s scores and they were belters. The first was facilitated by simple but effective quick hands following a quick tap penalty. It was started by right winger and skipper Toshiaki Hirose and finished 50 yards downfield by left winger
Fukuoka. After Hirose’s surge the ball was moved swiftly to the left, the Scots ran out of bodies and Fukuoka finished off in style.
The second came when Japan earned a rare turnover at a set scrum, full-back Ayumu Goromaru entering the line at pace and at a canny angle. Sean Lamont performed heroics to tackle him short of the line but Fukuoka was on hand to pick up and race over. The conversion meant that Japan had narrowed the gap to 18-17, which was as close as they got.
None of this had looked likely in a first half that had gone according to script. Scotland bossed possession and territory and, if the lineout misfired occasionally, the home side milked a penalty or a free kick at just about every set scrum.
David Denton carried tirelessly and he had able support from the front row union. Meanwhile, man of the match Tim Swinson stopped the opposition runners like they’d hit the buffers and Kelly Brown made a nuisance of himself at the breakdown without actually winning too many turnovers.
The midfield partnership of Matt Scott and Nick De Luca looks set to run and run, the latter thinking he’d made a clean break for Lamont to score only to be pulled back for an earlier obstruction.
Ruaridh Jackson attacked the line but some of the passing, both to and from the stand-off, was a little wayward. More than once Jackson had to check to collect the ball before setting off again. Still Laidlaw kicked two penalties and Tommy Seymour claimed his first Test try, getting outside the full-back after Sean Maitland made a brilliant break to take play into the Japanese red zone.
All this gave the home side a 11-0 lead at the half-time break and everyone expected them to kick on in the second 40 and rack up a decent score. So they did but not before getting a fright from the visitors who, following two tries of their own, were trailing by one point on the 53-minute mark before finally finding themselves over-run in the closing quarter.
The two Japanese tries sandwiched an effort from Laidlaw after the scrum-half sneaked over from close range, with just a suggestion that Euan Murray may have opened the door for the scrum-half by holding a defender back.
With 20 minutes left on the clock Japan’s muscular Tongan-born No.8 Koliniasi Holani was shown a yellow card and that signalled the effective end of the Brave Blossoms’ brave resistance as the Scots, a man to the good, made effective use of the power-play to score another two quick-fire tries.
The first went to Alasdair Dickinson who popped up in midfield after Scotland had hammered at the Japanese line. A loose pass appeared to have ruined the opportunity but the Scots recovered and the reserve prop scored under the posts.
Then Duncan Weir, on for Jackson, took advantage of a little luck.
The two Seans, Lamont and Maitland, combined on the left wing and when the fullback’s speculative inside pass hit off a Japanese arm it fell into Weir’s path for the Scots’ fifth try.
With the opposition tiring fast, the Scots were swarmed around the Japanese try line.
Lamont had already been denied twice, once in the first half and again in the second when he hacked ahead only to get tripped on his way to the line. Goromaru was yellow carded for his sins and Scotland kicked the resulting penalty to touch. And, a few plays later, Henry Pyrgos chipped over the top of the Japanese defenders and into the dead ball zone where Lamont was the first to the ball for Scotland’s sixth score. Just reward for all the team’s hard work.