Japan 28-21 Scotland: Rugby World Cup dream over as Scots run ragged by rampant hosts
Scotland’s Rugby World Cup is over after they were emphatically beaten by rampant hosts Japan, who celebrated their first ever quarter-final and topped Pool A following a brilliant display of pace and clinical finishing that Gregor Townsend’s side couldn’t match for most of the game.
A match that had been threatened by the Saturday’s super typhoon had been given the green light earlier in the day by World Cup chiefs as Yokohama woke from the storm to a clear and sun-drenched day.
Come the evening the atmosphere for one of the most anticipated matches of the pool stage was at fever pitch and played in an electric atmosphere which propelled the hosts and left the Scots floundering.
A campaign which started at the same stadium with a shockingly poor performance against Ireland was given a confidence boost by 34-0 and 61-0 wins over Samoa and Russia but that was exposed as a false dawn today as Japan roared to a 21-7 half-time lead, sealed the bonus point shortly after the break and saw the game out despite some desperate resistance from Scotland in the second-half as tries by WP Nel and Zander Fagerson were added to the Finn Russell opening score from early in the game.
But Japan held firm and finished strong to spark deafening celebrations.
For Scotland, who had been described as the fittest and best-prepared squad to represent the country at a World Cup, it is a pool-stage exit for only the second time after 2011 and what can only be described as a deflating failure.
A respectful minute’s silence was observed in honour of those who died when yesterday’s horrific Super Typhoon Hagibis ripped through Japan’s main island.
Then the atmosphere turned back to electric as the packed stadium roared the Brave Blossoms on to what they hoped would be a positive start as they looked to prolong their fairytale run as tournament hosts, topped off with that famous win over Ireland, into the quarter-finals.
Scotland started well enough but the opening minutes unfolded end to end at a frantic pace.
The Scots were almost caught on when a fumble from attacking position saw Japan kick through and threaten, but the defence covered back and defended well.
When Russell got some ball he started to probe at the home team, first with a brilliant trademark cross-kick which right wing Darcy Graham was inches away from collecting.
The wait wasn’t long for the crucial opening score to come as Scotland pressed again and after a simple feed from scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, stand-off Russell weaved his way through to dot down and the skipper converted.
With Scotland needing not just the win but to deny the Japanese any bonus points that effectively made things 0-0 with 70 minutes to go.
A 16th-minute penalty from Japan stand-off Yu Tamura, who was the leading points scorer in the tournament going into the match, dropped short under the posts but the stadium was going wild just two minutes later as the Brave Blossoms struck back as left wing Kenki Fukuoka rode a tackle from Chris Harris to slip inside superbly to the darling of the home crowd, opposite wing Kotaro Matsushima, to blaze home.
Tamura converted to make it 7-7 and a testing time for the Scots continued to build until Japan, who lost tighthead Jiwon Koo to injury, struck a real blow with a quite stunning second try. Matsushima was on the rampage again to drive the opposition on the back foot. Lock James Moore and full-back William Tupou combined slickly and loosehead Keita Inagaki finished off under the posts to give Tamura an easy conversion.
Worrying times as the Scots were getting no ball and therefore no respite. The chants of “Nippon, Nippon” rose a few more decibels and it was clear the momentum needed to be reversed, and quick, or any hopes of reaching the quarter-finals could easily slip away.
Tamura missed another penalty chance, dragging it wide, just before the break but the Scots would probably rather it had gone over as the hammer blow of a third try followed seconds after. Again, it was a beauty as Japan played at a pace and intensity that a shellshocked Scotland simply couldn’t cope with as centre Timothy Lafaele’s prodded kick through was taken at pace by Fukoaka and there was no stopping the lightning wing.
Tamura converted well from wide, Scotland were 21-7 down and jogged into the changing rooms knowing that their World Cup future was now in grave peril.
That became what seemed an impossible task when Fukuoka went over for his second try three minutes after the restart after Harris was stripped of the ball, Tamura again adding the extras to make it 28-7 and, crucially have the bonus point in the bag.
Scotland now needed to score four tries and win by more than seven. They got halfway to the four-try target at least when finally able to get some possession and build the phases, with WP Nel making the final surge over the line and Laidlaw converting.
Townsend took the opportunity to flood the game with replacements, Stuart McInally on for Fraser Brown, George Horne for Laidlaw, Allan Dell for Gordon Reid, Zander Fagerson for Nel, Scott Cummings for Grant Gilchrist and Blair Kinghorn for Tommy Seymour.
Life was breathed into the fight for survival in the tournament when Scotland then put together an excellent spell of sustained and accurate play with classy handling, Jonny Gray surging and linking nicely with his new lock partner Cummings before Fagerson finished off and Russell, who took on goalkicking duties, converted well.
Scotland looked to have really set things alight with 18 minutes to go as Japan were carved open after flanker Jamie Ritchie, who was outstanding again, forced a penalty at the breakdown but the chance came to nothing as referee Ben O’Keefe penalised Pete Horne, who was now on for Darcy Graham, for a forward pass.
It was breathtaking stuff now with both teams playing at a ferocious pace, but time ticked away for the Scots and the Japanese crowd exploded with deserved euphoria.
The go on to face South Africa in the quarter-finals next Sunday, Ireland play New Zealand the day before. For Scotland, it’s hometime.
SCORERS: Japan: Matsushima, Inagaki, Fukuoka (2); Cons: Yamura (4)
Scotland: Tries: Russell, Nel, Fagerson; Cons: Laidlaw (2), Russell
JAPAN: W Tupou; K Matsushima; T Lafaele, R Nakamura; K Fukuoka; Y Tamura, Y Nagare; K Inagaki, S Horie, J Koo; L Thompson, J Moore; M Leitch, P Labuschagne, K Himeno.
Subs: A Sakate, I Nakajima, A Ai Val, U Helu ,H Tui, Tanaka, R Matsuda, R Yamanaka
SCOTLAND: S Hogg; T Seymour, C Harris, S Johnson, D Graham; F Russell, G Laidlaw; A Dell, F Brown, WP Nel, G Gilchrist, J Gray, M Bradbury, J Ritchie, B Thomson.
Subs used: S McInally, G Reid, Z Fagerson, S Cummings, R Wilson, G Horne, P Horne, B Kinghorn.
REFEREE: B O’Keefe (Nzl)
• Our Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup coverage is brought to you in association with Castle Water www.castlewater.co.uk