Japan, having fronted up against the All Blacks and beaten Wales in recent memory, were clearly targeting Scotland for a top ten scalp.
So having denied them that, with a first Test win of the season under their belt and six tries scored by forwards and backs, are there reasons to be cheerful for Scotland Interim Head Coach Scott Johnson?
On the face of it he seemed to think so:
“It was a good test match. [Japan] are a formidable side now and they contributed to a reasonable spectacle.”
Tommy Seymour enjoyed his Murrayfield debut, scoring twice: “To go out and get two tries is something I’ll certainly never forget.” On the overall team effort he added, “scoring six tries you’re not going to be cursing yourself too much if you get that up on the scoresheet.”
While the result went the right way, the scrums were a bit of a minefield and in an area where Scotland had dominated during the first half, Johnson bemoaned the fact that they crumpled – or seemed to – in the second, with no clear indication why.
“The scrum cost us two tries – two wonderful tries. We scrummed really well to start the game. I’m a bit bemused what the change was. We dominated the scrum so much for the early part of the game”.
Captain Kelly Brown refused to blame the Murrayfield pitch for the scrum’s woes, saying “as players we need to focus on our own game and that’s all we can do.”
“Overall we knew that we would make some errors. It was our first game and it is never absolutely spot on. All of the guys worked very hard, that’s our baseline. We can sharpen up a bit and look forward to the next two matches.”
One thing Johnson will have them working on is defensive decision making, saying he doesn’t believe that if something goes wrong up front that gives the backs license to do something silly in behind too, perhaps referring to Ruaridh Jackson’s decision to rush out for one of the Japanese tries, choosing the wrong man to go for.
“We made some incorrect defensive decisions. We’ve got to make it harder for teams to score against us.”
He was heartened by the way that Scotland were able to rebound from each score and get a try back, but did worry that it took being scored against for Scotland to do this.
Meanwhile Japanese acting head coach Scott Wisemantel agreed that the restart was a critical area, saying “we think of it as part of our set piece. We let ourselves down there.”
“The players are disappointed, we wanted to win. But they’ve taken a fair few positives from the game.”
The Japanese would take something away from the game though, adding “we came here to play and we showed that. We came with the mindset to attack. We probably could have kicked a little more. But they chose to run it, which shows a lot of courage.”
The Japanese resurgence after half time was a deliberate choice to attack the blindside, he revealed:
“We wanted to keep the tempo up. Some of their bigger players were getting caught so we wanted to attack down the blindside more.”
“We work hard in training on going from defence into attack.”
Ruaridh Jackson felt that Scotland perhaps hadn’t emerged after half time with the right mindset and let Japan back in.
“We were maybe a bit flat at the start of the second half. They really came out and took it to us. We need to learn from that, and not have to react. We have to go out and play that kind of stuff from the start.”
At that point, with the margin down to a point, Johnson admitted he hadn’t felt too great.
Kelly Brown agreed. “We expected a really tough match and that is what we got. The way Japan kept the ball and went through the phases put us under pressure.”
Johnson saw one positive in the way Scotland struck back with a score each time, and Seymour was in agreement.
“To come back straight away from their scores, go back up the other end of the park and get back in front was very positive from the boys.”
With South Africa up next Sunday and no Euan Murray, things will only get tougher. On loosehead Ryan Grant who was replaced early on having been knocked out, Johnson had this to say:
“He’s a bit light-headed, and he woke up cranky. If he woke up placid we’d be worried. We’ll do the due process [for head-knocks] and hopefully he’ll be with us next week.”
Winger Sean Lamont, who had one of his best recent performances in a Scotland shirt, was equally sanguine on possibility of injury enforcing change next weekend.
“Everybody picks up knocks. Rugby is a physical sport; it’s definitely getting more physical. You pick up these bumps its part and parcel of the game. We do have the depth.”
Centre Matt Scott will be examined by a surgeon tomorrow after the hand injury he sustained in the closing stages. With his influence on Scotland’s game growing, he would be a major loss next weekend.
The two most significant casualties yesterday were the Glasgow forwards, Ryan Grant and Alastair Kellock who sustained concussion and will now follow the graduated return to play protocol. Tim Swinson (shoulder) and Duncan Weir (groin) will also require further assessment tomorrow.
Johnson feels the strength of the bench showed Scotland are building depth with Gray and Barclay adding some steel late on and Weir running the show well.
“We want competition for spots, we want a good bench.”
“I don’t want to be talking about injuries, I want to be talking about: this guy is good enough to play Test rugby.”