Aidan Smith: No touches for 20 minutes then – whoosh – Hogg breaks the record

In the build-up to this game there were vivid words from Fraser Brown as he recalled the moment he realised the overhead conditions in Yokohama didn’t, after all, bear any resemblance to “a storm on the west coast of Scotland”.
Scotland captain Stuart Hogg celebrates his record-breaking first half try during the Autumn Nations Series win over Japan  (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)Scotland captain Stuart Hogg celebrates his record-breaking first half try during the Autumn Nations Series win over Japan  (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Scotland captain Stuart Hogg celebrates his record-breaking first half try during the Autumn Nations Series win over Japan (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The forward described in our sister paper The Scotsman how he was in a lift in the team hotel which suddenly went black and plunged ten metres as the building began to groan and sway.

That was Typhoon Hagibis at the 2019 World Cup in Japan, the last time Gregor Townsend’s men played the tournament’s hosts. What could Murrayfield muster in return? Definitely no Typhoon Haggis. Not even a storm on the east coast of Scotland. Just another mild, still afternoon at the end of an almost balmy week. Oh, and Stuart Hogg, hoping for a fair wind as he chased down history.

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Trouble was, the skipper couldn’t get a touch, never mind a run, never mind a try deserving the epithet Hurricane Hogg and one to make him our most prolific crosser of the whitewash.

Japan, the absolute spoilsports, point-blank refused to boot the ball long, allowing him to embark on one of his thrilling, careering charges from the back.

The clock was about to register 20 minutes before he was given the opportunity. The most exciting piece of play up until that moment - Sam Johnson’s dinked kick which almost put in man-of-the-match Chris Harris for a score before some fleet-footed and bold Japanese defending rescued the situation - eventually led to Hogg gaining possession. Right, he must have said to himself, here goes. Perfectly understandably, he got excited. After one of those trademark skips, which presumably enable him to generate more velocity, he set off diagonally but quickly ran into some downtown Tokyo traffic.

Still, at least Hogg was involved now. And the next time Scotland attacked he was hugely prominent. Finn Russell sprung him on halfway and he blurred past several red and white shirts. He could have gone for glory himself at that moment but, playing the captain’s part, flung out wide to fellow Hawick man Darcy Graham.

The ball was recycled, Russell set him up again, and this time, after a little shimmy, the space opened up. Hoggy roared through it and before touching down, pumped his left fist in delight.

A leap into the air confirmed the 25th try, passing the record he’d held jointly this past week with Ian Smith and Tony Stanger.

Then came the quieter element to the celebration. Hogg always makes a “W” with his hands in memory of his best pal, Richard Wilkinson, killed in a car crash on a Borders road in 2009. This time he seemed to gaze into the heavens for a few seconds longer than after the previous 24.

That World Cup game, of course, was won by Japan. Though Typhoon Hagibis had abated before kickoff, Scotland were blown away on the park, and what was only our second-ever exit from the tournament at group stage forced a rethink on speed vs solidity. Since then the defence has been much more mean-spirited.

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Japan in this game were striving for something of the vigorous rhythm of the taiko drummers who were part of the pre-match entertainment before yet another 67,000-plus crowd, but the Brave Blossoms’ progress post-2019 has been disrupted by the pandemic. It didn’t look like they needed much familiarisation with the egg in the opening minutes, though, and zippy, flippy handling featuring just about every member of the XV offered the promise of a free-flowing contest. Eventually Russell got his hands on the ball and cleared upfield, where Scotland stayed until their first try. Without doing very much compared to the effort expended by their visitors, they went ahead through Duhan van der Merwe.

After’s Hogg’s record-breaker, Scotland’s third try came from a surge from Russell, the kind which Japan, for all their clever handling and patient build-up, had been unable to fashion. Graham seemed likely to be halted in the act of scoring but the little wingman checked himself, allowing his would-be tackler to overshoot, and he was able to scuttle over the line.

The fourth from Stuart McInally, after a couple of Japan penalties had brought the visitors to within a converted try, almost allowed Scotland to relax. Russell, showing his two-footedness, launched a big kick with his left to maintain pressure and Harris continued with some big hits, but a fifth didn’t come and the game went into a lull during which there were multiple substitutions, including dark-blue debuts for Dylan Richardson and Javan Sebastian. Then Tevita Tatafu went over for a try and Japan were again in touch with their hosts.

Hogg’s second half had been quiet - just one break. But he had to concentrate on defensive duties as three times in rapid succession the Brave Blossoms threatened to break through the midfield. They could have pinched the game in the final ten minutes. The crowd, though, didn’t seem anxious. Indeed, they launched a Mexican Wave round the stadium. Perhaps they knew that Pierre Schoeman, fast becoming a cult Murrayfield favourite with his bad hair and bullocking charges, would quell Japan’s last-gasp attempt to stun Scotland again. Perhaps they knew that Russell, kicking much better than last week from the tee, would put away the final penalty to make the result safe.

And perhaps they knew it would be Hurricane Hogg’s day.

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