After shaking the world with the Rugby World Cup’s biggest ever shock last weekend, Japan weren’t able to repeat their heroics as Scotland recorded a bonus-point victory at Kingsholm.
On a afternoon where all the headlines had been about their opponents, the Scots’ outscored the Cherry Blossoms by five tries to one, becoming in the process only the sixth nation to move past 1000 points at Rugby World Cup finals.
Indiscipline cost Japan in the first-half as Scottish Skipper Greig Laidlaw kicked four penalties to give the Dark Blues’ a narrow 12-7 lead at the break.
Scotland went up the gears in the second-half and went clear through a pair of tries from Mark Bennett, while John Hardie, Tommy Seymour, and Finn Russell also crossed the whitewash. Captain Laidlaw converted four of the tries to take his total for the day to 20 points.
Japan scored their only try in the first half through Number 8 Amanaki Mafi, with fullback Ayumu Goromaru’s conversion and second half penalty making up their scoring.
It was another brave performance from the Cherry Blossoms, but in the end they wilted, and Vern Cotter’s men ran away with it and were well worth the five points to go top of Pool B.
The Scots put down a statement of intent by pressing Japan early on and after just two minutes Laidlaw in familiar territory kicked his first penalty of the game, 3-0.
Another penalty from the scrum-half extended Scotland’s lead, but Japan would open the try-scoring through powerhouse back-row Mafi, and fullback Goromaru converted to give the Cherry Blossoms a one-point lead.
But Laidlaw, while Japan were down to 14 following Kotaro Matsushima being sent to the sin bin, edged the Dark Blues’ back in front with two further strikes from the tee, 12-7.
Scotland then went in search of their first try but were denied by a try-saving tackle from Goromaru on the edge of half-time, meaning the Scots’ held a narrow five-point lead at the break.
The key turning point in the game was when Japan lost Mafi early in the second half as the forward was stretchered off. And although the Blossoms narrowed the gap from the tee soon after through Goromaru it would be their last points of the game.
New Zealand-born John Hardie, who qualifies for Scotland through his Grandmother, got the Scots’ try-scoring underway for when he dived over in the corner after 48 minutes, but Laidlaw was unable to make the difficult touchline conversion, 17-10.
Seven minutes later a shuffle of the hips from fullback Stuart Hogg opened up the Japanese defence and the ball was recycled to Bennett, who ran through from the midfield unchallenged to touch down the first of his two tries. Laidlaw this time did convert.
And the game was over as a contest just after the hour mark when Seymour intercepted Harumichi Tanaka’s attempted pass to cross the whitewash unopposed, with Laidlaw converting from in front of the posts, 31-10.
Bennett then scored his second try after 68 minutes, battering his way through the Japanese defence to touch down with Laidlaw adding more damage with the resulting conversion.
Fly-half Russell, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday, then scored the Scots’ final try after 74 minutes following a poor Japan scrum. And with the kick in front of the posts Laidlaw again converted comfortably, 45-10.
Scotland takes on the USA this Sunday at Elland Road while Japan now have ten days to regroup before their crunch match with Samoa on October 3rd at StadiumMK
Man of the Match- Greig Laidlaw
The Scotland scrum-half, Captain, and goalkicker was almost immaculate from the tee as he accumulated 20 points made up of four conversions and four penalties. The 29-year-olds leadership and performance oozed class as the playmaker managed to keep Scotland’s attack moving forward at real pace by quickly recycling the ball throughout.
Scotland: Hogg, Seymour, Bennett, Scott, Lamont, Russell, Laidlaw, Dickinson, Ford, Nel, Gilchrist, J. Gray, Wilson, Hardie, Denton.
Replacements: Maitland for Hogg (66), Horne for Bennett (80), Grant for Dickinson (65), Brown for Ford (73), Welsh for Nel (72), R. Gray for Gilchrist (51), Strauss for Wilson (59). Not Used: Pyrgos.
Japan : Goromaru, Matsushima, Sau, Tamura, Fukuoka, Tatekawa, Tanaka, Inagaki, Horie, Yamashita, Thompson, Ives, Leitch, Broadhurst, Mafi.
Replacements: Hiwasa for Tamura (69), Hesketh for Tatekawa (76), Mikami for Inagaki (41), Kizu for Horie (73), Hatakeyama for Yamashita (53), Ito for Thompson (69), Makabe for Ives (61), Tui for Mafi (46). Sin Bin: Matsushima (24).