Japan 16 - 21 Scotland: Sub Greig Laidlaw rescues Scots

Scotland's Stuart Hogg is tackled by Japan's Hendrik Tui during the tourists' 21-16 win in Tokyo. Picture: Koji Sasahara/AP
Scotland's Stuart Hogg is tackled by Japan's Hendrik Tui during the tourists' 21-16 win in Tokyo. Picture: Koji Sasahara/AP
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Lucky, lucky Scotland. They played some dreadful rugby, hardly got a sniff of an attacking play, conceded one of the tries of the season and still managed to come away winners.

As so often before Greig Laidlaw was the man who came up trumps, coming off the bench for the final quarter in Tokyo to score four late penalties to rescue his side.

It was turgid stuff from the Scotland side and the Japanese Emperor Akihito plus the record crowd who had turned up to watch must have been left wondering how on earth their team could play all the memorable rugby and still lose.

In the end, it came down to the oldest of simple equations. With one exception, the Scots defence did its job superbly and, as was the case last week, the Japanese discipline let them down.

As with the first Test, the game was played at a frantic pace, both sides willing to run the ball, with Japan in particular ready to step up the pace whenever they got the chance, while Scotland obviously felt their big pack should give them an equally sizeable advantage.

An early exchange of penalties, Henry Pyrgos getting his first points with the boot for Scotland to add to his four tries, and Yu Tamura, the Japanese stand-off, answering a few seconds later, the game settled to a contest of Scots power against the Brave Blossoms’ verve and invention.

The main attacking threat for Scotland was inevitably Stuart Hogg, who is living up to his early promise as a runner but none of them could do much in defence against the attacking brilliance of the Japanese running game.

From a line out on their own line, Japan swung the ball wide, Yasutake Sasakura, the wing, raced clear to the half way, quick ruck ball and suddenly the Scots defence was stretched on the other side of the field. They made no mistake, with Tamura spinning the ball wide, Harumichi Tatekawa, the centre making the killer break, and quick hands from Tamura put Keito Shigeno, the scrum half, in. Tamura converted.

Another exchange of penalties left the Scots still trailing by four points heading into the final minutes before the break and struggling to dominate possession in the way they had in the opening minutes, and even though an exchange of penalties between Pyrgos and Tamura kept the scoreboard ticking over, there was no doubt which was the side in a better frame of mind at the break.

The worry for the Scotland coaches is that they have not scored a try against Japan on this tour when their hosts were at full strength and realistically never looked like changing that in this game. With tries off the table they had to do it three points at a time, and had the men to do it in Pyrgos, who got them under way, and Laidlaw, who finished the job.

The big change came in the scrum. It was under pressure in the first half while the line out was hardly doing any damage against the throw. Scotland did something to change things at the break when they replaced their entire front row and it was not long before the cavalry coming to the rescue also included Laidlaw, the normal captain, who quickly produced two more penalties to bring the scores to within a single point.

Despite that, it was still largely a case of Scotland’s defence against Japan’s attack, with the Dark Blues having to make far too many tackles as the men in red gave them a lesson in rugby continuity.

The Scots were having to defend for long periods but now they did have the advantage of that strong scrum with WP Nel back at the coalface and doing all kinds of damage to his Japanese opposite number. In the end, it worked when a rare breakout from their own 22 after an even rarer Japanese handling mistake, gave Laidlaw his third kick at goal and he made no mistake from long range.

It was a scarcely deserved lead, but none of the Scots were complaining – even less so a few minutes later when Stuart Hogg simply booted the ball miles downfield, Japan got themselves isolated trying to run it back and Laidlaw did the rest to give them a bit of a cushion. A win. Certainly not a win to remember or feel good about.

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