SCOTLAND organised this game as part of their training preparation for the Argentina tour and in a largely empty stadium one almost felt like we were intruding on their meaningless runabout.
Free entry encouraged just over 8,000 supporters to turn up on a fine sunny evening, which filled the lower part of the East Stand, but the Japanese, effectively their nation's second-string team, earned most of the plaudits from an impressive amount of skill, notably at the breakdown, that ensured Scotland never enjoyed any real fluency, and duly received an ovation from the Murrayfield supporters at the finish.
Scotland were rusty, but they should have been capable of better and it could have been worse had Japan been more accurate with three missed penalty and two drop-goal efforts. Scotland started in sevens style and failed to bring the necessary structure to their play to expose Japan's failings, and were caught dithering at other times they needed simple straight running. Referee James Jones did not help, halting the game regularly with 20 minutes' worth of stoppages in all.
The loss of Richie Vernon to a shoulder injury and Richie Gray to sickness before the game had already piled some more woe on Scotland's tour plans, but when Alex Grove finished off a fine flowing move in only the sixth minute the outlook was decidedly bright.
The rustiness appeared quickly, however, with Hugo Southwell and Sean Lamont knocking on passes. Lamont strived to lift the tempo by running ball from behind his goal-line after Japan's capped full-back Ayumu Goromaru sent a penalty attempt wide, but the Scots turned over ball once outside their 22. Goromaru fell short with a long-range penalty kick and after another turnover Masakazu Irie, the Japan skipper, struck a drop-goal attempt wide of the uprights. The set-piece was given a work-out, notably in the lineout by Tim Bond, the Kiwi lock, and though Scotland were winning the penalty count comprehensively, the Japanese were ensuring they struggled to uncover a rhythm to their scrum and maul play.
As the half-hour approached the Japanese began to come into the game, growing confident in attack with Irie, the fly-half, at its apex. Mike Blair had to be alert to deny Japan a try when slick drawing and passing released right winger Yuta Imamura, producing a try-saving tackle just inside the Scots' 22.
Irie went for another drop-goal to provide some points reward, but was short again, but with five minutes of the half remaining hooker Hirotaka Hirahara thought he had scored Japan's first try. He was to be disappointed as referee Jones ruled that there had been a knock-on, but there was no denying the growing threat, with fine lead-up work by lock Tomoaki Taniguchi having created that opening.
Goromaru had another go at the posts but though again well-struck it slid across the posts. Within a minute Imamura was sprinting clear again down the right touchline.
The covering Godman stood his ground to deny the winger 15 metres from the Scottish line, but there was an eeriness as the teams then trooped inside for half-time.
The second half was hardly much better with the Scottish players strangely lacklustre as a team. Godman made a good break five minutes in but again there was a lack of dynamism about the hosts, players preferring to look for a pass without committing any defenders. A fine throw over the lineout to Brown released the flanker, but Lamont could not reach his pass inside had he possessed extendable arms.
In the 50th minute, Scotland did finally break through, however. Godman sparked the opportunity with a break from a tap-penalty in the middle of the field, just past the Japanese ten-metre line, Scott MacLeod turned it into a good attacking platform on the 22 and good skills and straight running by John Barclay took the flanker powering through a tackle and to the line on the left.
Godman converted and coach Andy Robinson sent on Geoff Cross for Low, Al Kellock for Jim Hamilton and Max Evans for De Luca and as Scotland finally lifted the tempo, the Japanese suffered the loss of their skipper Irie to the sin-bin for a series of ruck infringements.
The hosts immediately exploited the advantage, pulling Japan across their own 22 until there was space on the right that left Barclay with an easy run-in for a second try and ensured he picked up the man-of-the-match award.
Jim Thompson then entered the fray, replacing Godman but going to full-back for the coaches to further their experiment started with Scotland A in November of seeing Southwell as a potential fly-half cover.
Kellock's game was interrupted after 12 minutes when he was shown a yellow card with 18 minutes remaining for foolishly lying over a tackled player, but after a fine charge into the Japanese 22 by MacLeod provided the territory, Scotland scored a fourth try through Danielli in the left-hand corner.
But the Japanese finally earned just reward for their hard work with just over a minute of the game remaining, their openside flanker Youngdae Kim driving over after a concerted period of pressure on the home line. It was fitting as the Japanese had played much the nearer their potential, and it left Scotland with a timely reminder of the degree of work that will be necessary to worry Argentina later this month.
Scorers: Scotland: Tries: Grove, Barclay 2, Danielli. Cons: Godman 2. Japan: Try: Kim.
Scotland XV: H Southwell; S Lamont, N De Luca, A Grove, S Danielli; P Godman, M Blair (capt); A Jacobsen, R Ford, M Low, S MacLeod, J Hamilton, K Brown, J Barclay, J Beattie. Substitutes: G Cross for Low, A Kellock for Hamilton, M Evans for De Luca, both 50mins, J Thompson for Godman 54, M McMillan for Blair 61, F Thomson for Ford 62, G Morrison for Lamont 70, Low for Jacobsen 75.
Japan Select: A Goromaru; Y Imamura, T Yamauchi, A Mattaali Havea, P Mifiposeti; M Irie (captain), S Oshima; H Teduka, H Hirahara, Y Nagae, T Bond, T Taniguchi, K Shinozuka, Y Kim, I Sioeri. Substitutes: T Doi for Nagae 61mins, H Mine for Taniguchi, N Anderson for Oshima, both 68, Nagae for Teduka 72, E Nakata for Shinozuka, K Syomen for Yamauchi, both 75.
HOW THEY RATED AT MURRAYFIELD
Looked eager but guilty of dropped passes and running into contact without off-loading.
Burly winger got over early rustiness to be a regular threat for Scotland, but frustrated as supply dried up too quickly.
NICK DE LUCA
Another lively presence in the early stages, dancing in and out of tackles and asking questions.
Showed great pace to finish off the first try early on and was a strong presence in defence, but frustrated as attacks dried up before finish could be applied thereafter.
The winger looked hungry for ball coming in off his flank, but enjoyed little success as the Japanese knocked him back in the tackle before finally breaking through for a try.
Worked hard to create under demands of coaches not to kick, varied game and good break early in second half opened Japan up, but suffered as Scotland struggled to finish off.
The skipper looked sharp and keen to inspire the side in first half, but influence waned as game wore on.
Prop found the Japanese a tough nut to crack as he charged into brick walls.
Few opportunities for the hooker to show his ability in the loose, but was visible with some good runs and solid in the set-piece.
Glasgow tighthead had a battle to get on top of a compact opponent and though never in trouble neither he nor Jacobsen dominated the way they would have liked.
Worked hard in the boiler room against a physical Japanese second row combination.
Giant lock worked hard in first half in physical forward battle, but struggled to make impact in the loose.
The blindside flanker put in his usual high work-rate and contributed some crucial tackles, but struggled to make great inroads into the Japanese half.
Two great tries underlined how he has taken on coach's call for more time on the ball, and was a key fighter in Scotland's battle to retain possession.
Was an attacking presence in early stages, but influence waned as game went on.
GEOFF CROSS (for Low 50mins)
Edinburgh prop worked hard to involve himself and solid in the scrum.
ALASTAIR KELLOCK (for Hamilton 50)
Blotted copybook within 12 minutes of coming on with over-eagerness that led to yellow card, but worked well otherwise.
MAX EVANS (for De Luca 50)
Injected a liveliness into Scotland's attack.
JIM THOMPSON (for Godman 54)
Enhanced his reputation with running from deep that opened up the Japanese.
MARK MCMILLAN (for Blair 61)
Bath-bound scrum-half played well at the base of the scrum.
FERGUS THOMSON (for Ford 62)
Hooker was another lively introduction and put himself about well.
GRAEME MORRISON (for Lamont 70)
Little for the Glasgow centre to do as Japan fought back in last ten minutes.