Scotland V Japan
Scotland produced an attacking master-class, scoring five tries in the second-half, to secure a 45-10, bonus-point victory over Japan in their opening Pool B of the Rugby World Cup 2015.
The game had attracted much interest, as Japan came into the game having won the hearts of many neutrals, following their shock 34-32 victory over two-times World Champions South Africa, in their opening Pool B match on Saturday (19 September).
However, Vern Cotter’s Scotland had yet to enter the fray, and, off the back of a good Summer series, were keen to stamp their authority on the tournament. And indeed they did.
Four penalties from the relentless and pin-point boot of captain Greig Laidlaw ensured Scotland went into the changing rooms at half-time with a 12-7 lead, despite Japan scoring the only try of the half through back-row Amanaki Mafi.
Scotland built on their first-half lead, scoring 33 points in the second period, to put Japan to the sword in a convincing manner.
Centre Mark Bennett grabbed a brace, and back-row John Hardie, stand-off Finn Russell and wing Tommy Seymour all crossed the whitewash to get their name on the score-sheet.
Man-of-the-match Greig Laidlaw converted four of the tries - adding to his four penalties in the first-half - to take his personal tally to 20 points for the day.
A mammoth defensive effort complemented Scotland’s attacking flair, as Japan were only to claim three points in the second-period.
In front of a packed Kingsholm, local favourite Laidlaw, put Scotland ahead after just two minutes with a penalty and again was successful with the boot in the eleventh minute to give his side a 6-0 lead.
Japan retaliated in a composed manner and only three minutes later back-row Mafi – a stand-out player for the Brave Blossoms – controlled the ball at the back of a driving lineout maul to touchdown for the first try of the game.
Ayumu Goromaru successfully added the extras to put Japan ahead for the first time in the game, after 15 minutes.
It was the controlling and influential figure of Laidlaw who kept Scotland in the game with his accurate goal-kicking, as he notched over a further two penalties in quick succession to put his side 12-7 in-front after 20 minutes.
The Brave Blossoms put themselves under more pressure in the 22nd minute when wing Kotaro Matsushima, was shown a yellow card by referee John Lacey, for using his hands in the ruck and slowing down a promising looking Scotland attack.
Despite being a man-down, Japan found themselves in a good attacking position and when awarded with a penalty, again, opted to go for touch with a view to scoring a try.
However, Scotland’s defence did not relent, and an excellent defensive maul, accompanied by some brave first-up tackling, put a halt to Japan’s ambitious attack.
Michael Leitch, the captain of Japan, paid compliment to the Scots’ defence when awarded with another penalty, as he handed the ball to Goromaru to take his chance at goal. The full-back struck the ball well, yet watched it glance by the uprights keeping Scotland’s 12-7 lead intact.
Going into the closing minutes of the opening half, Scotland’s pack lead the charge, venturing to deep within their opposition’s half.
A rangy miss-pass from maverick stand-off Finn Russell, released wing Tommy Seymour in the outside channel with only an outstanding effort from Gormaru stopping the Glasgow Warriors back scoring his eighth international try.
Half-time: Scotland 12 v 7 Japan
Japan immediately imposed themselves on Scotland in the second-half and, when the Dark Blues were penalised for offside, Goromaru took his chance to close the gap to just two points on the 45-minute mark.
Scotland’s retort was simple yet brilliant. A beautiful inside pass from Mark Bennett allowed veteran Sean Lamont to break the initial line of defence before finding Matt Scott and John Hardie, who linked up in the outside channels to make a good territorial gain. One phase later, Laidlaw had the vision to switch the ball back to the blindside, where Hardie was waiting patiently to drive over the line and score his first try in international rugby. (19-10)
Goromaru had the right of reply in the 51st minute, but the ball thumped of the post letting Scotland off the hook.
Full-back Stuart Hogg, then made a signature break as the game past the 50-minute mark, when he came back against the grain to scythe through the Japanese defence and take Scotland into a good attacking position. The Dark Blues stayed composed and they were rewarded when Laidlaw found Bennett with a precise inside pass, which allowed the Glasgow Warriors’ centre to gallop through for Scotland’s second try of the game.
Laidlaw’s conversion gave Scotland a 14-point lead after 56 minutes (24-10).
Scotland tightened their grip on the game further 17 minutes from the end when Tommy Seymour picked out a Yu Tamara pass and, not only put an end to a promising looking Japanese attack, but also managed to stride out the full-length of the field for a score in a 14-point swing.
Again, Laidlaw added the extras to see Scotland break the 30-point barrier (31-10).
Scotland now found themselves in full-flight against a Japan team who were struggling to live with the high-tempo attack of the Scots.
Bennett secured a double when his centre partner, Scott, made good inroads in the Japanese defence to create a solid try-scoring platform. Bennett still had a lot of work to do when he received the ball, yet used his electric feet to find a way through the wall of cherry and white to score his side’s fourth try of the game and duly secure a bonus-point in Pool B.
Relentless, Scotland continued with their attacking brand of rugby. Russell was next to add himself to the scoresheet on 73 minutes. The intelligent stand-off put in a subtle step and sidled his way through the on-looking Japanese defence to score his second international try, on his 23rd birthday.
Laidlaw slotted the conversion from directly in-front of the posts to close his side's scoring account for the day.
Full-time: Scotland 45 v 10 Japan
Scotland team: 15 Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Sean Lamont; 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw CAPTAIN; 1 Alasdair Dickinson, 2 Ross Ford, 3 Willem Nel, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 5 Jonny Gray, 6 Ryan Wilson, 7 John Hardie, 8 David Denton.Substitutes: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Richie Gray, 20 Josh Strauss, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Sean Maitland.
Japan team: 15 Ayumu Goromaru; 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Male S'au, 12 Yu Tamura, 11 Kenki Fukuoka; 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka; 1 Keita Inagaki, 2 Shota Horie, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 4 Luke Thompson, 5 Justin Ives, 6 Michael Leitch (c), 7 Michael Broadhurst, 8 Amanaki Mafi. Substitutes: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Shoji Ito, 21 Hendrik Tui, 22 Atsushi Hiwasa, 23 Karne Hesketh.
Man-of-the-match: Greig Laidlaw (Scotland)