The first Autumn International of the season brought back old school shirts and old school facial hair, and an old school start with the forwards bashing it up and Nick De Luca throwing a duff pass.
In the absence of the BigWing™ Tim Visser, using David Denton’s size to rampage down the wide channels over Japan’s smaller wingers was a clear plan from the start. Closer in they had to adapt to an increasingly large Japanese pack with Swinson the preferred blunt implement and it wasn’t long before Greig Laidlaw made the territory pay with a nicely judged kick in behind that had the Japanese scrabbling. That led eventually to a scrum penalty that he slotted easily.
The Murrayfield turf cut up worryingly though, which is not something you expect from that pitch traditionally. The Millenium Stadium it ain’t, usually. Throughout the game the ground staff battled to keep the turf serviceable in the face of those pesky nematodes, but several players struggled to keep their footing.
Japan showed their intent soon after the scoring was opened with some physical defence and Scotland fumbled the attempt to play out of their 22. Luckily they seemed to have the Japanese scrum- which had troubled the All Blacks on occasion – under control.
There may be questions over who fills the 13 shirt but at the moment Matt Scott is the clear first choice at 12 and he showed up well from the off, interchanging with Jackson at first receiver and making good gains, as well as showing some nice hands to put Maitland into space.
Japan play simple, direct rugby but as NZ will tell you, simple direct rugby played at pace is the best kind and there were worrying moments at the quarter of an hour mark when Japan threatened the tryline. Scotland repelled the attack and went on the counter, with Jackson marshalling his line well despite some frustratingly risky passes. He likes to try things, that is for sure.
Scotland were given plenty of assistance by referee JP Doyle and Japan infringed a lot in and out of Laidlaw’s kicking range. One struck the posts at the limit of it, but the next one he slotted on 20 minutes.
When they got the ball, Japan’s half backs Tanaka and Ono were finding little gaps but the luck wasn’t with them in the first half, a finely judged penalty clearance going dead to kill their momentum, while Murray and Grant were in clear control of the scrums.
They did get some offloading going but only when Scotland were down a prostrate body as Ryan Grant got his head the wrong side of a tackle. Even with Dickinson filling in for Grant, Doyle still saw things Scotland’s way at the set piece.
Maitland made his impact on the game with a great attacking line that took things deep into the Japanese 22, but a last ditch tackle prevented him from stepping his man as he clearly planned to and running in the score. Seconds later Seymour was over in the corner though after Strokosch and Jackson shifted the ball the other way to put him in.
Japan showed throughout what a danger they are in broken play or given any sort of space, with pace and deft hands throughout the back line, but unfortunately too many last passes let them down. They did earn a penalty just before half time to get on the board through fullback Goromaru.
Scotland came back at them with Nick De Luca scurrying through the defence and some frantic offloading leading to what looked like a try for the resurgent Sean Lamont. Sadly there had been a block by Swinson, and the try was not given.
Japan came out blasting in the second half, after Doyle awarded a free kick at the scrum against Scotland. Tanaka tapped and the winger and captain Hirose cut Scotland open. Japan moved it left at pace, and swift offloading in very little space put Hirose’s opposite number Fukuoka – who to this point had only played University rugby – streaking down the line and under the posts.
Scotland, stung, charged back at Japan and the decent-sized crowd livened up, Denton and the grimly effective Swinson used as battering rams to soften up the Japanese backline. 22 phases later Greig Laidlaw burrowed over for the try, converting it to pass 200 points at International level.
Japan made the game worryingly close with half an hour to go after nicking a scrum (again) then breaking quickly, fullback Goromaru streaking through a gap and a simple take and give sending Fukuoka over again.
Scotland’s patience was starting to look a little like complacence, until the forwards put together a strong maul, Laidlaw and Scott linked nicely to draw the defence and Jackson threw the sort of miss pass he has been doing all season for Glasgow to put Seymour over in acres of space.
The gap was restored at 23-17, but Japan were still an attacking threat whenever they had the ball, even when Number 8 Holani was sent to the bin for killing the ball as Scotland threatened the line.
Scotland made the difference count with Laidlaw and Scott finding ever more holes and nice hands allowed Ali Dickinson to run in an easy try with quarter of an hour to go.
By the time Richie Gray came on to an over-sized cheer, Scotland were well in control and seemed to have one eye on next week’s Springbok game, tightening up in the forwards and trying it about more in the backs.
The highlight of this period was Duncan Weir’s first try for his country, created by a darting Sean Maitland run was regathered, he offloaded brilliantly around one defender and it bounced off another’s arm into the hands of a diving Weir who touched it down. A stylish second touch of the ball that left him looking decidedly pleased.
Japan ran it to the bitter end, which is wonderfully refreshing and absolutely what you expect them to do, but with Barclay and Gray on, the defence firmed up and their ball was decidedly slower. Amazing what a proper openside can do.
Scotland were able to make territory back quickly with some great kick chase from Sean Lamont who was finally rewarded for all his efforts with a try, fighting through Japanese obstructions to dot down Pyrgos’s chip. Weir converted to put the score beyond doubt at and reward Scotland for a solid afternoon’s try-scoring.
Probably the perfect warm-up game, Japan did find holes easily though when playing at pace, and Scotland will need to correct that if they are to mount a challenge against South Africa next weekend and the Wallabies the weekend after.
Full-time: Scotland 42-17 Japan
SRBlog MoM: Matt Scott. Swinson was the official one, having put in a tireless display of ball-carrying and defending. For me Scott was at the heart of everything positive about Scotland, interchanging at first receiver, leading the defensive line and busting through tackles. He is rapidly looking not just comfortable, but confident and assured at Test level. A rematch with the Springboks awaits.
Tries: Seymour (2), Laidlaw, Dickinson, Weir, Lamont
Cons: Laidlaw (2)
Pens: Laidlaw (2)
Tries: Fukuoka (2)
Cons: Goromaru (2)
Pens: Goromaru (1)
Attendance: 32, 680
Referee: JP Doyle (RFU)
SRBlog Man of the Match: laksh