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WXV2 – Champions Scotland v Japan talking points

Emma Orr scores a try
Emma Orr scores a try - pic © World Rugby used with permission

Scotland

2023 WXV2Fri 27th Oct 2023Athlone Sports Stadium, Cape TownKick-off: 1:00 pm (UK)38-7
Japan RFU

Japan

Referee: Kat Roche (USAR)| TV: RugbyPass.tv / BBC

Scotland put in a brilliant second half performance to rack up the points against Japan, doing just enough to win them the inaugural WXV2 title ahead of Italy and extend their winning streak to six in a row.

Here are the talking points from the match.

Patience pays off in a game of two halves

Wind conditions once again dominated in a match at Athlone Stadium and Japan did an impressive job of dominating territory for much of the first half while they had the breeze at their back.

Scotland were not at their best in attack during that first half, but they defended really well against waves of organised Japanese attack, the one blemish being a try slipping through when the defence had not resat quickly enough after a turnover penalty.

Scotland’s kicking game was doing pretty well against the wind, but couldn’t be used that much in the circumstances. The biggest frustration would have been that a few promising attacks broke down due to handling errors.

But this was yet another match where we saw how this more confident Scotland team stays patient when things aren’t going their way. Towards the end of the first half, they finally got some sustained territory and used their dominant scrum advantage to gain a penalty try.

They may have been disappointed to be only level at half-time, knowing they could have been ahead, but there was absolutely no sign this affected them when they came roaring out in the second half.

Tactics spot on again

After half time, Scotland knew Japan were unlikely to kick much into the wind, and any attempts would be relatively easy ball to run back. So when Japan had the ball in hand in the second half, Scotland contained them patiently.

They knew their own kicking and the scrum were key weapons and made them the platform, alongside a patient, relatively risk-free, defence. They trusted that by spending a lot more time in the Japan half, chances to score would come.

The build up to Coreen Grant’s try showed how Helen Nelson’s smart game management was helping to build Scotland’s lead – she kicked deep for touch to give Scotland the possession, then managed the attack through the phases until she saw the time was right to strike and fired the miss pass that then set up the try.

Even with the lineout not reaching the standards it did against South Africa, Scotland were completely dominant in the second half and racked up the scores. The most entertaining was Sarah Bonar’s magnificent intercept and gallop in when Japan got frustrated at being smothered and tried to chip their way out of their containment. To their cost the Sakura 15 found it was advantage Scotland again.

Different players shine

Every player has performed well in the WXV2, and it has been different players who have stood out in each match. Maybe a few years ago there would have been an over-reliance on key players such as Jade Konkel, but now the team is packed with players who perform week in, week out. 

This time, the standouts were player of the match Nelson, Emma ‘I can’t believe she’s still only 20’ Orr and dynamic tighthead Christine Belisle.

Nelson’s calm game management kept Scotland in the match in the first half and set them up in the second.  Orr was just brilliant in defence again, putting in some important tackles and winning a turnover penalty shortly after the third try to keep the pressure on Japan. She also showed what she brings in attack at her best – two excellently finished tries off great running lines, strong carries and some fine link play that was unlucky not to lead to tries for others.

Belisle was all over the park in attack and defence, tying up defenders with ball in hand, making life difficult at rucks and was a big part in putting the Japanese scrum under such pressure.

In week one it was Lana Skeldon and the locks who were maybe the biggest standouts, last week against the USA the back row and the back three were the centre of attention, here the front row, half-backs and midfield probably take the honours.

It’s such a positive going into the next campaign that the team looks so strong in every area.

A well-deserved trophy caps a remarkable turnaround

I’m not sure in April, after a deflating loss to France and a 12th defeat in a row, it would have been very convincing if someone predicted that Scotland would win their remaining six matches of the year and lift a trophy.

I had a feeling that they were doing enough good things that they just needed one win and results would look very different but this run has still exceeded expectations.

Scotland were only the third highest-ranked team in WXV2 at the beginning but have topped the table. I did genuinely feel for Italy who racked up a brilliant score against the USA but who came up just a few short.

But they had the advantage of knowing exactly what they needed to do – and were within 2 points of it for the last 20 minutes, which was not something the watching Scotland team had benefitted from in their game.

Going into the tournament, it felt like the teams were all fairly well-matched. Although in the end, the greater experience of Scotland and Italy (and their full-time professional status compared to the USA) won out, this was still good quality opposition that they had to beat.

And maybe it is hindsight, but it rarely, if ever, felt like Scotland were at risk of losing the games they played, in particular as it always looked like they were playing a tactically sound game, suited to the opposition, the conditions and most importantly their own strengths.

Success for Scotland in the first iteration of WXV2 – bring on the Women’s Six Nations!

Scotland lift the trophy
Scotland win WXV2 – pic © World Rugby used with permission

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