Fraser Brown: Scotland’s last clash with Japan had everything - including Typhoon Hagibis

Scotland’s last meeting with Japan was one of the most unbelievable games I’ve been involved in, and not just because of the build-up, although that was like nothing I have ever experienced before.

Disappointment for Scotland's Fraser Brown, Greg Laidlaw and Grant Gilchrist after the defeat by Japan at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. (Photo by Gary Hutchison/ SNS Group)

The threat of Typhoon Hagibis loomed over the fixture and ended up causing widespread destruction in Japan and the deaths of at least 98 people. Three matches at the 2019 Rugby World Cup were cancelled and Scotland’s final group match against the hosts in Yokohama was under threat.

Even at breakfast on the morning of the game most of us were still unsure as to whether it would go ahead. Even more uncertain were the arrangements if the game was called off; could it be played the following day, or would it be cancelled and the points shared?

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I had no real appreciation what the typhoon would be like. I remember in the evening stepping outside our hotel situated in the middle of Yokohama, a long way away from where the full force was felt, and thinking it like a storm on the west coast of Scotland. I went back inside and into a lift with our forwards coach Danny Wilson and Stuart Yule, our head strength and conditioner, and all of a sudden the lift went black and dropped around five to 10 metres! We were about 40 stories up in a huge skyscraper and it was terrifying. We got out of the lift and the whole building was swaying and you could hear it creaking and shrieking. I know now that all those skyscrapers are built to move in hurricanes and typhoons but it was a very strange sensation.

Japan played at a ferocious tempo against Scotland in Yokohama. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Despite it all, I actually slept like a baby that night, very unusual before a Test match!

The game got the green light to go ahead and as we made our way to the stadium you couldn’t tell that there had been a typhoon.

They had begun clearing up the damage at about 2am and by the time we’d woken up all the routes to the ground and the stadium itself had been cleared.

Every single fan with a ticket was able to go. It was an unbelievable achievement to get the game on in a packed stadium, a monumental effort and testament to the organisers and the Japanese people.

Japan players celebrate reaching the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals for the first time. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

It was a match-day I will never forget, starting with the anthems.

The Japanese anthem is very solemn and there were around 70,000 people singing it. It was a very strange and humbling experience because of what had happened in the previous 24 hours.

The game itself was played at a ferocious pace. We knew we needed a bonus-point win and in the first half we made a couple of mistakes and Japan capitalised and all of a sudden, we’re going in at half-time chasing the game.

The tempo Japan created in their phase play was incredible but that was how they been playing throughout the tournament. Leading-up to that World Cup the Japanese players had been in camp for something like nine out of the previous 12 months. They were an incredible rugby team but they were also one of the best prepared. Their skill-set was brilliant, their pace was brilliant and the way they pushed the boundaries was brilliant.

Their angles clearing out rucks were questionable and at times they just came straight in at the side but they were clever about it, always removing opposition players and clearing through to create quick ball.

I remember vividly the noise in the last ten minutes. I’d been replaced by Stuart McInally and it had become obvious to the whole stadium that Japan were going to win and go through to the quarter-finals. The sound was like nothing I’ve ever heard before in a stadium. It was incredible.

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Japan won 28-21 and it felt strange after the game. I didn’t think we’d played poorly. There were some bad mistakes, some bad defensive errors but we scored some good tries, particularly in the second half. There was the obvious disappointment not just for the loss to Japan but for the entire tournament, we had massively underperformed and underachieved.

For some guys in that team, they probably knew that was the end of the road for their Scotland careers, whether through retirement or not hitting the heights at the tournament.

Scotland and Japan meet again on Saturday at BT Murrayfield and they are two very different teams to where they were in 2019.

Covid has disrupted Japan’s ability to build on their World Cup success and that is a real shame. Domestic rugby has got going again but it has been very hard for their national team to travel overseas.

They suffered a heavy defeat in Dublin a fortnight ago but that was against a very good Ireland team as we saw at the weekend when they beat the All Blacks.

Japan also played the Wallabies the week before but they’ve had very little meaningful Test rugby since the World Cup because of travel restrictions.

They had a tight game against Portugal last weekend which they won and every week they are together in camp they will improve.

For Scotland, there are some obvious technical improvements that they will have been working on after the South Africa defeat and they will want to see those improvements this weekend but importantly they will want to demonstrate that last week’s underperformance was a one-off.

There will always be matches that you will lose and there will always been disappointment from loses and missed opportunities but from every loss there’s an opportunity for growth, a chance to learn and improve and for Scotland they have a great opportunity to finish the Autumn Nations Series with three wins from four and carry real momentum into one of the competitive Six Nations ever.

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