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1st Test: Japan 13-26 Scotland

Matt Scott battles through Japanese tacklers - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography
Matt Scott battles through Japanese tacklers - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography

The quick departure of loosehead prop Al Dickinson provided early misery for Vern Cotter in the Toyota Stadium, although joy for Rory Sutherland who must have been champing at the bit for an extended run.

A great attacking counter from Japan ended with hooker Shota Horie under the posts and served up a warning of the intent to offload that Japan possessed, picking Scotland to pieces pretty easily after some half-hearted tackling from the Scotland midfield. Duncan Taylor won’t enjoy watching that one back.

With the ball it was an unsettled start, with lineouts going awry and some inaccurate kicks. There was a promising break from Matt Scott carelessly flung backwards when he was tackled – as if Scotland were 7 behind in the last ten minutes of a Six Nations match, rather than in the first quarter of their first international game together since March…

As usual, captain Greig Laidlaw kept Scotland in the hunt with three early penalties chipping them into the lead.

Despite a scoreboard deficit, Japan were bossing the breakdown and the Scots struggled to build any sort of momentum even with a massive share of the possession, save for a strong ten minute spell between 20-30mins where some furious counter rucking and quick ball saw Scotland make some good breaks and get into the Japanese 22. Sadly the result was a long range penalty for Yu Tamura when John Hardie blocked a defender trying to open a hole for Stuart Hogg.

Japan played at high tempo, and were quick over the ball in defence and quick to shift the point of focus in attack. At the end of their season, Scotland were sluggish to the breakdown even on a hard pitch, with Laidlaw often late to the breakdown because of the speed with which his ball carriers were having to place the ball away from Japanese tacklers.

The penalty count was in Scotland’s favour though and things continued in that vein as Henrik Tui was yellow carded for offside during a Scottish maul, but Jackson’s speculative kick was too long to be threatening.

Even lineout drives featuring two extra centres and Damien Hoyland were ably parried by Japan, and it almost seemed like the ref was the only one seeing it Scotland’s way. There were a lot of penalties whenever Scotland got their set piece going.

Japan were perhaps unlucky in terms of the match to go another man down after Rikiya Matsuda batted down the ball as Hogg made a final pass to Seymour. However a penalty try and a yellow card was the correct call from referee O’ Keefe and gave Scotland a chance to put it to bed early in the second half, if they had the nerve.

Half-time: Japan 10-16 Scotland

Scotland came out rapidly, with Seymour snaffling the kickoff then Jackson putting a much better cross-kick in in for Hoyland, who had an assured debut but would have loved to make it a try. Again though the penalty advantage – created by Nel and Laidlaw guddling at the back of a ruck enough to make the Japanese player at his feet look guilty of interference.

The pack stepped up with the short range carries though and WP Nel bundled though the bodies to get the try.

The pack almost had another but for a misunderstanding at a 5m lineout between McInally and Wilson. McInally perhaps still finding his way at that particular set-piece, and he was replaced by Fraser Brown on 47mins.

On the hour mark Japan finally woke up with some great offloading and a win still not that far out of sight, but when they kicked it to Hogg he finally had a good run of his own, assisted by Sean Maitland and only the touch line forced the move to break down. Laidlaw kicked another penalty as discipline cost Japan their momentum again.

It wasn’t the greatest test match ever for the mass of home fans who had turned out, as both sides never really got going with Japan a big drop off from their World Cup form. The entertainment factor wasn’t helped by Laidlaw marshalling a dull spell of keep ball while going nowhere that was designed to run out the final minutes on the clock until the hooter went and he could boot Japan out of their misery.

A test win under their belts notwithstanding, Scotland will need to massively improve their speed of start and accuracy at the lineout if they want to become the sort of team that can emulate the Southern hemisphere tour heroics of England and Ireland.

SRBlog Man of the Match: no standout performers for Scotland, but once again the highlights were in the front row. Rory Sutherland had a strong game when he came on very early as a replacement, carrying hard and assisting the Scottish dominance in the scrum and can be pleased with his efforts.

30 Responses

  1. Hmm – not comfortable or pretty to watch, but an important win away from home.Japan are certainly not a team that we can afford to take lightly and play an enjoyable style of rugby. Numerous mistakes including missed tackles, lost lineouts and scrums, restarts out on the full, poorly weighted kicks, all tainted the Scottish performance. That said, a couple of other bits going our way from good opportunistic play could have opened up the margin (Hogg and Seymour were both a bit unlucky not to score). The same could possibly not be said so much for Japan, whose counter attacking opportunities we dealt with reasonably well (though they did guddle a couple of balls).
    Overall, I thought the forwards were decent. The back row did well, particularly Wilson. Hoyland had some good moments with the ball, but needs to work on making his tackles stick.

  2. I don’t accept ‘a wins a win’. Today was bloody awful stuff by a team who seem to think that 1980s ten man rugby is the way ahead. I’ve never seen a slow ponderous performance like this in ages. Laidlaw is an absolute disgrace. He walked from ruck to ruck, dawdled, passed poorly and to the wrong receiver and was the single most obvious reason why Scotland played such an awful game. Jackson looked bad too but whether that was down to the “captains” crap service or not is up for debate. The back play when we did finally get the ball away from the shambolic rucks was so obvious and poorly executed the Japanese had no problems dealing with it. Some of the decision making was hilariously bad and the basic skills of passing and catching whilst running forward (shock horror!) were dreadful. They should all be forced to watch the ABs over and over again to see how test rugby should be played. Is Cotter blind to just how poor Scotland are??????

    1. Well said Al. The only thing Laidlaw is good at is pointing. Why does he have to take the time to tell his fellow professional players where to stand? Is it a reflection on Vern’s lack of coaching/planning.
      He is holding back the progress of the team.

  3. I seen loads of pragmatism yesterdray, Laidlaw played even more conservatively than he normally does & it was defo win is a win mantra.

    Would like to see Horne/Jones in the centre (if Horne isn’t held back on the bench to cover centre/SO), Maitland should start too

  4. Not a great performance but it was reassuring that we never really looked in serious trouble, the (excellent) Japanese try aside. I agree that we played fairly turgidly for most of the game but I wonder if the plan was maybe to take advantage of the rare instance of the opposition having a considerably smaller pack than us. As we saw with the try, Japan look best when the game is open so perhaps it was a smart move keeping it tight most of the time.
    Sutherland was good, and I thought Hoyland looked alright, hopefully he’ll get another chance next week. Nel was a tank as usual. I agree with Al that Jackson was a bit rubbish, maybe we should go with Horne at 10 next week and see if he can reproduce his performance against France where he really got our backline firing.

  5. We REALLY miss Finn Russell, look at how we play when he is absent. Laidlaw is a brilliant kicker but his service is as slow as a week in jail.

  6. It was frankly a poor performance, that said we won. Plenty of time I remember a poor performance automatically equalled loss. Pyrgos simply has to get some game time, if Cotter is not comfortable with kicking from tee options then Paterson has to be brought in to coach the alternatives. I sort of expect room to be made for the tour guys who didn’t even make the bench in the next game, fitness always permitting. The exception might be Lamont. I think I would definitely rest Hardie. He is on his knees.

    Hope we are a lot sharper next week.

  7. Agree Mike, Hogg will surely be a good kicker (he can do everything else). I’d like to see Huw Jones getting a game perhaps outside Peter Horne. I agree that Pygros needs game time but its unlikely Laidlaw will be dropped.

    On another issue (to those more knowledgeable than me) will the next 2 years see Hugh Blake quietly leave Scottish rugby or does he still have a shot @ international rugby??

    1. Definitely an opportunity at Glasgow for Blake this year assuming Matt Smith goes off to London Scottish and if Simone Favaro continues playing international rugby, as he has this summer. Also Wilson being favoured by Cotter will help open space.

  8. Cheers Robbie, Favaro will be 1st choice, then Fusaro & Blake will be next in line, Matt Smith is very likely to head south too. Blake has a great pedigree & is a very good player but maybe not good that hard edge required…….time will tell

  9. End of a long season, humid conditions. I think we best keep this simple, Japan were poor, they came second and we were just a ahead of them. It is good enough for me.

  10. With us beating Japan and France losing to Argentina, is it expected that we will leapfrog the French into the 8th spot in the rankings. I know they are generally a mess but the difference between 8th and 9th will mean a lot come the draw for the next RWC (drawn after 2017 6 Nations I think)

    1. Rankings:

      6 – Wales 82.49
      7 – Ireland 81.96
      8 – Scotland 79.50
      9 – France 78.09
      10 – Fiji 77.14
      11 – Japan 75.89

      So in the 8 for now, and a good away win next week should see us extend lead over France, and possibly close the gap with Ireland if they lose. Not sure if there’s enough available to make it into 7th

  11. I suppose a win is a win but the biggest worry for me is seeing the difference in intensity, physicality and execution between England/Wales/Ireland and ourselves.

    Rustiness maybe as Wales and England played a warm up match to get them sharp but worrying nonetheless.

    I think the two 7’s experiment has run it’s course TBH and a back row like the one we played on Saturday just isn’t going to cut it against the big boys – playing two fetchers certainly isn’t going to have an impact against the Globogym back row where you have the likes of Haskell just running through you.

    Laidlaw again with a kicking masterclass that makes it easy to gloss over his other faults.

    And Ruraidh Jackson yet again showing that he isn’t anywhere near good enough, the full repertoire of missed touch, out on the full, clearance kicks gaining 10m and missed tackles. Get well soon Finn.

    Expecting far more from the team on Saturday.

  12. I have been a critic of Laidlaw, specifically how ponderous he can be, however, it was pretty clear that the team were not firing and that instead of forcing the issue he took a pragmatic approach to ensuring we got the win. Ok the intensity wasn’t there and it seemed like we could barely get through 5 phases of play before an unforced error occurred and that is something that they need to work on, but played with enough savvy to never truly be in any danger of losing despite all of this – I think we should focus on that positive as we know from the recent past that we do posses genuine talent and can play expansive attacking rugby but sometimes its a good sign to win ugly.

    As for changes, well a lot will depend on Dickinson. If he is out I think we will need a LH replacement – Reid? if so he’d probably start due to the shift Sutherland had to put in. If Ford is fit, he has to start as well.

    No changes in the locks for me, but I would like to See Strauss, Hardie and Denton start (with Barclay covering a no doubt tired Hardie from the bench)

    Laidlaw will start again, but Pyrgos will see 30 mins at least. I’d go Jackson again – if we want him to be a genuine replacement for Russell we have to persever and show him the love, plus I think Horne inside Taylor gives us the strongest centre combination available with Jones covering the bench – I think his 1st cap should be from the bench personally.

    In the back 3 its Seymour, Maitland and Hogg again for me. With Lamont covering bench.

    I know there is no flyhalf on the bench but with Horne, Jackson and Hogg all starting it wouldn’t be a major concern.



    1. I like the look of that pack. Best part of 30kg more oomph up front and a back row that can make serious meterage.

  13. The humidity in Japan shouldn’t be underestimated as a factor in the last 20 – it was what went before in the first hour that was disappointing for me. Thought Wilson showed well.

    Whilst I absolutely accept that there are ranking points at stake, I’d like to see Jackson and Pyrgos given a go and see what the difference in pace of play would be. Jackson and / or Hogg can do the place kicking – not to Laidlaw’s standard admittedly, but Cotter has to go without Laidlaw at some stage.

    I’m assuming Jones has to get on to get him qualified, and I don’t see the point in putting him on the tour and not giving him a start.

    Reid is on the plane, but it will be difficult for him to acclimatise in such a short time. And Nel didn’t look brilliant limping off, so front row may end up as a bit of making do. I assume Ford won’t be risked unless he’s 100%, as there are two fit hookers on the tour.

    Is it the same ref ? Thought he was OK, although if he’d been reffing Oz / England in the same way he’d definitely have had Robshaw and Haskell in the bin before half time !

    1. The Wallabies got “Jouberted” this time…..seems like he looks at the odds before kick-off and decides who should win. The whole business with overturning Robshaw’s offside face-grab/neck-roll was farcical.

    2. Thought the ref was good – although Hammett had a moan to the press whilst conceding both yellow cards were legit. I thought Japan were very fortunate not to get a third just after Taylor’s quick line out when they were penalised a metre short of the line for killing the ball with the try line begging. We might not have played with much flair but the outcome wasn’t in doubt after about 45mins and we’re now ranked eighth in the world. I think some supporters should give themselves a glass half full day now and again.

    3. Reid looked very fresh in the hotel after arriving from his flight and Nel came off with a sort of dead leg that was and wasn’t if you can understand that so I don’t see any issue for him this week

  14. As well as Hardie does Jonny Gray need a rest as well? He’s not looked his explosive ball carrying self recently.

    Laidlaw was way too slow and sloppy at the breakdown and also made some poor decisions but as captain and 1st choice kicker he needs to start for stability on Saturday. It would be good to give Pyrgos a decent run though.

    I agree with the comment that Jackson should be given another go but he should have no more than a half to make his mark.

    I thought Taylor was outstanding again. I’d also give Scott another go as he looked better than recent games. Of the two I’d be tempted to keep Scott and similar to Jackson tell him he has a half to prove himself. He still needs to try and give Horne and Jones some game time as well, a good selection headache to have.

    Back three, I think Hoyland deserves another go but then Maitland does as well. Possibly bench Seymour?

    Reading this back I think I may have taken the “it’s only a friendly tour” thinking too far!

    1. Very clear it is NOT a “friendly” tour. A win last weekend, coupled with Argentina beating France means we are up to 8th. A win this weekend to consolidate is essential. Trust Cotter to fit in the need for game time with the need to win. Jones has to come on some stage, but not I think start.

  15. the lack of intensity is the thing that always worrys me, even when we win we do it without really being very aggressive. Ire, Wales and England look like they would rather die that give up that ball, we seem to give it away and think ‘oh well there will be another chance’. They also throw themselfs into contact with rapid line speed. We on the other hand are slow getting up and still missing tackles. I really don’t get it, it’s like is our game plan to be slow….

  16. This morning. Taylor out of the tour. What price Cotter rolls the dice and picks Jones and Scott at centre with Pete Horne and Henry Pyrgos at half back??? #triesgalore?

    1. Pity abut Taylor. We’re not short of quality centres at the moment, but he’s the first of them on the team sheet.

  17. Given the conditions, and the speed that the game was played at, I think that this is a good result. The report in today’s Hootsmon says that several players were clocking around 10/11km during the game. Nel had done 9km and he came off early! This is in comparison to a typical 6N game where they would be doing around 7km.

    So the players were going further, in hotter, more humid conditions. I think this puts a bit of perspective on the result – it must have been horrible to play in, and you can understand why Laidlaw decided to closes out the last few minutes playing keepball. Can you imagine the pelters they would have got if they had conceded a late score, or worse two, and then came off saying “yeah, we were pretty knackered, but we know that the fans want to see us playing like the ABs so we thought we’d give it a go right til the final whistle”?

    Notwithstanding the conditions there is still room for improvement, and the squad know this if the noises emanating from the press are to be believed. There are also opportunities there for the likes of Sutherland, McInally, Jackson, Hoyland and Jones to press for permanent inclusion in the squad, so I expect a step up in quality this week. The caveat is that Japan will also be looking to improve – they don’t strike me as the sort of team to rest on their laurels.

    Forwards I would start Sutherland with the other 7 starters from last week. Reid and Strauss on the bench with Swinson, Brown and Low.

    Halfbacks is where it gets interesting. Laidlaw showed good game management, but do you want Pyrgos exposed to the conditions as preparation for 2019? I would say yes, so expect Laidlaw to start but to make way fairly early to give Pyrgos a run. Jackson at 10? Choices, choices….

    With Jackson at 10, the centres could be Scott/Horne with Jones off the bench. Or do you go with Horne at 10, with Scott/Jones starting and have Jackson or Lamont provide cover off the bench? Or even stick with Jackson and have Horne covering 10/12/13? It is a real shame to lose Taylor, but heartening that we still have options in midfield when you consider that Taylor, Dunbar and Bennett are missing.

    Back three from last week start again. Hoyland deserves another chance after last week. Seymour and Hogg are the best we have in their respective positions. Maitland to cover the back 3 as last week.

    Another win will consolidate 8th in the rankings, and means we go into the AI chasing the Irish in 7th. Achieving that, by whatever means, would represent a successful tour for me.

    1. I would argue that the extra distance is partly down to our poor control of the game and poor first up defence. England/Wales/Ireland wouldn’t have stood for that, why should we? Good workout and a good idea to world cup conditions but in terms of mileage the top sides won’t even consider being as open as that. Second test I’ll be disappointed if we average even 85% of the mileage of that first game.

  18. One must take account of the climatic conditions, yes, but the intensity with which the other UK / Ireland teams have engaged their Southern Hemisphere opponents has been on an entirely different level, as have their continuity and rhythm. I keep looking for and hoping for a little of the Glasgow Warriors’ style of rugby in the national team — but it has been largely absent. Scotland’s apparent lack of ambition has been disappointing to watch. Do we have the self-belief to produce a masterful display?

    1. Half backs dictate the pace of a match. Glasgow play quickly with Price and Pyrgos getting the ball away from rucks quickly to players running on to the ball at speed or they pick and break themselves. By the time Laidlaw gets there, decides what to do then passes, players are static and defences are set. Watch Genia, Smith, Care, Webb et al. They don’t arse about like our incumbent 9.

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