Aidan Smith: Scotland have fun taming Russian bears as attention turns to Japan

WP Nel, moments before being faced with the task of making a break for the line
WP Nel, moments before being faced with the task of making a break for the line
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Conspiracy theorists woke on Wednesday thinking back to that other World Cup in the Far East 17 years ago and vowing to keep a keen eye on the scrum as Scotland attempted to remind Russia that when it comes to rugby, they’re the superpower.

No one is suggesting this tournament is bent but an allegedly crooked put-in by Samoa had led to Japan securing a potentially defining bonus point which could guarantee the hosts won’t have to leave their own party early.

In 2002 Japan and South Korea joint-staged the football spectacular and it was the latter who benefited from dodgy refereeing decisions against Italy and Spain with unpunished fouls and disallowed goals causing outrage in these countries.

Gregor Townsend’s reaction has been more measured, saying he hadn’t seen a feed penalised in elite rugby for a very long time - “incredible” he called it.

The first scrum in Shizuoka arrived in the 12th minute and, well, looking at the world through the eyes of the ref in the Japan-Samoa game, Dmitry Persov’s feed was more than crooked, it was corrupt.

Scotland won a penalty and opted for another scrum. George Horne’s put-in was, if anything, even worse, but it led to the opening try so let’s have no more chat about wonkiness.

It was scored by Adam Hastings, one of the understudies, who’d got a good touch in the opening seconds and by the 23rd minute had racked up 16 points - two tries and all his conversions.

For anyone who witnessed the sometimes tentative performances of Gavin Hastings’ laddie at Murrayfield recently, this was incredible.

“Somewhere in the stadium his father will be going bonkers,” said commentator Nick Mullens. “And not far away from me, so’s his Uncle Scott.”

The best way to rubbish conspiracy theories or at least render them redundant is to go out and unfussily win the next game and in Scotland’s case the game after that.

First things first. They couldn’t think about Japan until they’d tamed Russia’s Bears, sent this spirited but limited outfit home with a fourth straight defeat and claimed a bonus for themselves in a comfortable victory.

Simples? Well, where we’re from, things rarely pan out so straightforwardly.

The Russians had sung their anthem lustily. Part of it translates as: “Be glorious, our country! We are proud of you!” And the homeland should be proud because the team until they faced Scotland hadn’t been thumped, attracting admirers for their feisty forwards especially.

But after a lively start the breakthrough try seemed to knock some of the stuffing out of the oldest team in the tournament. Then, as they were gasping for a moment to restore some composure, the ball bounced as viciously in front of Vasily Artemyev as it had done for Stuart Hogg against Ireland and Hastings was in again.

Pool A has been lazily dubbed the Group of Death but for that to apply it must be mutually murderous, with everyone capable of killing each other. These wounded Bears didn’t seem to have one last roar in them although as Scotland chased the vital fourth try the Dark Blues were variously hasty and sloppy. We just needed to take our time.

But that is not something Darcy Graham does. Gathering deep he set off on a blazing run, blurring past the opposition like they were Red Square statues, then unselfishly setting up George Horne for the scrum-half’s second try.

There were more scores for Scotland, and more sweet conversions from Hastings who was having a dream game, and his fly-half partner wasn’t doing too badly either, going on to notch a hat-trick of tries. He should have had four but the video ref spotted a forward pass. Nevertheless the Princess Royal up in the posh seats looked on amusedly.

Scotland had fun. Well, mostly.

“This is WP Nel in open space and looking uncomfortable,” quipped co-commentator Ugo Monye as the hulking prop was suddenly charged with the task of making a break for the line.

Nine tries gave Scotland their biggest win since 2004 when they did the ton in Perth. The opposition that day? Oh, just Japan …

• Our Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup coverage is brought to you in association with Castle Water