Clinical Scots power past tired Japan

Date published: September 23 2015

Scotland kicked on in the final half hour to secure a comprehensive 45-10 win over Japan at Kingsholm in Gloucester on Wednesday.

Five tries in the second half, including two for Mark Bennett, wrapped up a convincing win at the end for the fresher Scots in their first game, with the outcome always set to hinge on how quickly Japan had recovered both mentally and physically from last Saturday's spectacular triumph over South Africa. 

Six changes from Eddie Jones went some way to freshening up his side but asking the majority of the heroes who conquered the Springboks to do it all again four days later bordered on unreasonable.

They weren't as sharp, conceded more penalties, but crucially were never out of the contest until their legs went with 30 minutes left. The loss of outstanding number eight Amanaki Mafi not long into the second half was also a cruel blow.

Scotland had no such worries when it came to fatigue and were ruthless in putting points on the board early on through the boot of man of the match Greig Laidlaw, but they never looked truly at ease until Bennett's first try midway through the second half.

Laidlaw, kicking on familiar turf at Kingsholm having joined Gloucester last year, converted an early penalty won through Scotland's maul after Kotaro Matsushima was harried into touch deep in his own 22.

A second Scotland penalty was fair reward for dominating the opening stages where Laidlaw and Finn Russell kept the tempo high.

That all changed after Grant Gilchrist gave away a sloppy penalty at the breakdown, allowing Ayumu Goromaru to put the ball in the corner.

Japan's maul was excellent against South Africa and struck again here at the first attempt. Shifting the ball at the lineout to a second pod led by the captain Michael Leitch, the Brave Blossoms wouldn't be stopped as Mafi found the line.

Laidlaw responded after a no-arms tackle saw Shota Horie penalised to put Scotland back ahead at 9-7, and Japan continued to struggle in the scrum, Laidlaw wasting no time to make it 12-7 from 45 metres out after the Japanese front row dropped their bind.

Japan's indiscipline was beginning to cost them with Matsushima questionably sin-binned for hands in the ruck, but Laidlaw's wide kick left them off the hook on the scoreboard.

Leitch and Japan's bravery however hadn't deserted them, opting to go to the corner from a kickable penalty only for the ball to be lost forward.

Little errors such as those – Goromaru's missed penalty, a forward pass – undid plenty of promising groundwork but Japan were relentless in the pressure they put on Scotland when Fumiaki Tanaka and Mafi were able to get on the front foot. Despite an entertaining stint camped in Scotland's 22, they failed to produce any points.

Having withstood Japan's barrage Scotland almost had the final say of the half, only for a spectacular try-saving tackle from Goromaru on Tommy Seymour to keep the score at 12-7.

More brilliance from Mafi almost handed Japan a perfect start to the second half, only for Scotland to cling on, but after another barnstorming run through the defence the Tongan-born number eight couldn't carry on in huge blow to Japan's hopes. Goromaru's first penalty closed the gap to just two points.

Line breaks for Scotland had been hard to come by but a sharp inside ball released Sean Lamont into space and opened up the Japanese defence for John Hardie to score his first Scotland try in only his third cap.

Vern Cotter's side then completely switched off from the restart, letting the ball bounce for Matsushima to sneak in behind for an attack that ended with a penalty which Goromaru clattered off the post.

With 25 minutes to go Scotland full-back Hogg sped through a gap and left Japan scrambling, giving Bennett a simple chance to score Scotland's second try with what felt like the killer blow even though the centre went precariously close to crossing the dead ball line before touching down.

Tommy Seymour's interception try confirmed the result, despite him being chased well by Kenki Fukuoka, with Bennett then adding a second to the delight of the Scottish fans packed into the crowd as their side secured a try-bonus point.

Birthday boy Finn Russell made the most of Japan being out on their feet as he stepped through for try number five to add more points that might go far when the pool stages come to a close.

A sadly predictable outcome, but Scotland won't mind one bit.

Man of the Match: Amanaki Mafi impressed for Japan while Greig Laidlaw was crucial for Scotland, but John Hardie showed a high work-rate in Scotland's back row and looks like a top addition.

Moment of the Match: It felt already over but Tommy Seymour's interception try confirmed there was no way back for Japan.

Villain of the Match: Nothing nasty to report.

The scorers:

For Japan:
Try: Mafi
Con: Goromaru
Peny: Goromaru
Yellow Card: Matsushima

For Scotland:

Tries: Hardie, Bennett 2, Seymour, Russell

Cons: Laidlaw 3

Pens: Laidlaw 4

Japan: 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Male Sau, 12 Yu Tamura, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Michael Broadhurst, 6 Michael Leitch (c), 5 Justin Ives, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Kazu, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Shoji Ito, 21 Hendrik Tui, 22 Atsushi Hiwasa, 23 Karne Hesketh

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 David Denton, 7 John Hardie, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Richie Gray, 20 Josh Strauss, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Sean Maitland

Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

by Ben Coles at Kingsholm