Rugby: Scots set for Argy bargy

IF the old adage about no medals being won pre-season is true then the same must apply to the type of late domestic season fare offered up at Murrayfield last night.

First and foremost a Scotland XV overcame a Japan XV by 24-5 to ensure they don't head off on tour to Argentina at the end of this week fresh from slipping on a banana skin. And, for those who considered defeat implausible, remember how, in 1991, Scotland headed into a World Cup on the back of a defeat by an Edinburgh Borderers Select albeit they went on to reach the semi-final.

So, no crisis of confidence in the ranks and of huge importance, too, was the fact that injuries appeared conspicuously absent.

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Hitting out was the name of the game and while cynics might say that if it was Scotland's intention to keep their best moves under wraps they succeeded admirably bearing in mind the words spoken afterwards by Jim Thompson.

Scotland's own rising son – he is the only member of the tour party as yet uncapped – put the exercise in to sharp relief when he remarked: "There were some good bits and some not so good bits and it took a wee while to get going.

"We were training this morning and this afternoon. We were also in the gym yesterday.

"In fact, we were training our way through the game. We are all pretty knackered but it was good preparation.

"It was all about the two Tests in Argentina and this was a good warm up and a chance to get a bit of game-time under our belts.

"They were stuffy, especially at the breakdown, and we knew it would be like that. They chopped us down and were very aggressive.

"We should have scored more but didn't get enough numbers to the breakdown and you can't score tries without the ball.

"We needed to be a bit more accurate ... but getting things to work on was part of the exercise. It was about fine tuning."

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Significantly a crowd of 8,186 remained solidly behind the Scots when, given long barren periods, they might have been expected to give rise to a Mexican wave – allowing for the fact that that manoeuvre is hard to perform when you are crammed into the lower tier of a grandstand all along the touchline on one side. Shooting koi carp in a barrel it was not, while those who expected to turn up and see something akin to the 100-8 massacre inflicted by Scotland on the last occasion the teams met in this country at full Test level were always going to be disappointed.

Why, the team nicknamed the "Cherry Blossoms" contrived to take much of the polish that adorned Scotland's occasionally direct running by notching the last try, by flanker Kim, in the shadow of full-time and just when it seemed there would be a home "shut out" to enthuse over.

Sloppy Scotland took almost an hour to impose themselves in the sunshine after flattering to deceive. Only five minutes had elapsed when play was switched for Alex Grove to pop up on the wing and cross on an overlap, with Phil Godman converting that opening try.

However, instead of building on that success the Scots inexplicably stuttered.

Three successive lineouts were conceded on their own throw and it took a desperate tackle by Mike Blair on Imamura to keep the home line intact. On another occasion hooker Hirahara was over the line only to be recalled by the referee for a forward pass.

Had Japanese full back Ayumu Goromaru brought his kicking boots with him the Scots could have yielded three penalty goals and stand-off Masakazu Irie was not far away with a drop goal attempt.

At the root of the display was poor support which frequently left the ball carrier isolated and a 7-0 interval lead was a fair reflection on proceedings. At least the Scots did rouse themselves to an extent after the change-around to extend their lead with a brace of tries by John Barclay on either side of a yellow card for Japanese captain Irie for persistent infringement.

On the first occasion Barclay burst on to a pass 15 metres out and momentum carried him through the cover while a long pass from Godman was the catalyst for the flanker's second try on the way to a man of the match – should it have been 'non-match' given the dress rehearsal nature of the event – award.

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This time Godman failed to convert and was immediately withdrawn although that was no reflection on the playmaker who had been one of the few Scots to look the part particularly when producing a neat dummying break, while new Edinburgh signing Grove was another to earn pass marks.

Hugo Southwell moved up to stand-off on Godman's departure allowing the only uncapped member, Thompson, a run, and the ex-Herioter slotted in well as the Japanese wilted.

Cue the Scots finally being able to run through their repertoire and produce an excellent score by any standards when slick handling put Simon Danielli in at the corner. Thompson missed the conversion as a prelude to Kim's late touchdown at the other end but is still entitled to set off on tour dreaming of a cap.

"It would be great to be out there and be involved which is the plan. All I can do is work hard and, if the chance comes, that would be fantastic," said Thompson.


Scotland XV: Tries: Barclay (2), Cross, Danielli; Conversions: Godman (2). Japan XV: Try: Kim.

Scotland XV: Southwell; S Lamont (Morrison, 68), De Luca (M Evans, 50), Grove, Danielli; Godman (Thompson, 53), Blair captain (McMillan, 63); Jacobsen, Ford (Thomson, 61), Low (Cross, 50), MacLeod, J Hamilton (Kellock, 50), Brown, Beattie, Barclay. Subs: Thomson, Cross, Kellock, Morrison, McMillan, M Evans, Thompson.

Japan XV: Goromaru; Imamura, Yamauchi, Havea, Mifiposeti; Irie (c), Oshima; Teduka, Hirahar, Nagae, Bond, Taniguchi, Shinozuka, Sioeri, Kim. Subs: Senba, Doi, Nakata, Mine, Anderson, Syomen, Kitagawa.

Summer Tour fixtures

Saturday, 12 June, 4pm: Argentina v Scotland, Tucuman (live on BBC1 Scotland)

Saturday, 19 June, 4pm: Argentina v Scotland, Mar Del Plata (live on BBC1 Scotland)

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