Japan V Scotland
Scotland kept their unbeaten record against Japan at Test level intact with a hard-fought summer Test win in Tokyo tonight (21-16), completing a 2-0 series win against their hosts.
In front of the largest ever crowd for an international match in the country Scotland ended their 2015/16 campaign with a professional, if unspectacular victory.
On a sweltering night at the Ajinomoto Stadium in the presence of Emperor Akihito Scotland finished a tight game with a sense of control that had eluded them over the first 60 minutes.
Japan, for their part, played as expected, and close to their Rugby World Cup form, to consistently test Scotland’s heart, lungs and legs whenever they had possession.
Right from the opening kick-off it was clear both teams wanted to play with ball in hand, but it was Japan that were getting over the gain line and threatened the visitors defence.
An early Henry Pyrgos penalty, his first kicked points in a Scotland shirt, opened the scoring, before swapping penalties with his Japanese counterpart (3-6).
A defensive lineout in their own 22 then proved an unlikely starting point for Japan’s, and the game’s, only try of the match on 21 minutes.
Japan secured quick possession and countered at pace and in numbers.
In a sweeping move, which saw the ball pass through many hands, the hosts were roared to the far corner by their passionate fans for an impressive try.
Quick recycling, miss passes and off-loads all featured as Scotland tried desperately to slow down the attack and get bodies behind the ball, but a final inside pass to scrum half Shigeno saw him complete a memorable score.
The conversion took Japan into a 10-3 lead.
The rest of the first half couldn’t match the quality of the try and handling errors and penalties disrupted any flow, with neither team able to create a consistent platform.
Two penalties from Pyrgos got Scotland twithin a point at 10-9, but a penalty for Japan on 28 minutes gave them the half-time lead.
Half-time: Japan 13-9 Scotland
Scotland took the initiative in the second half, starting a new front row after Gordon Reid, Fraser Brown and Willem Nel came on for Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally and Moray Low respectively.
Scotland worked hard to tighten up the game and, as the heat took its toll, the bench helped to ensure fresh legs could wear down the Japanese pack, especially at scrum time.
A swap of one scrum-half captain for another saw Greig Laidlaw replace Pyrgos on 50 minutes, while Huw Jones made his Scotland debut, coming on in the 57th minute for Ruaridh Jackson.
Scotland restricted Japan to just a single penalty in the second 40 minutes despite regularly coming under pressure from an attack-minded Japan.
A knock-on at the base of their posts was the fortunate outcome after Japan’s best attack of the second half, while Scotland were forced to dig deep for a 10-minute spell around the hour mark.
But slowly the scrum started to get its reward and Laidlaw kicked four penalties to punish Japanese infringements to turn a 13-9 half time score into a 16-21 win.