Japan qualified for the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in their history with a 28-21 victory over Scotland in Yokohama on Sunday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The game so many anticipated but thought would never happen lived up to its billing. While there were fears pre-match that typhoon Hagibis would have its impact, the playing surface at the International Stadium held up remarkably well and allowed for an enthralling contest.
Rather than being cowed under the pressure from the expectations of their home crowd, Japan embraced the game and truly deserved the win. The hosts took the game to Scotland and forced them to make over 110 tackles in the first half and held out with some brave defending in the second.
Scotland deserve credit for playing their part as well. Despite going into the break 21-7 down, which became 28-7 minutes into the second half, Scotland responded remarkably well with two tries in five minutes bringing them right back into the contest.
Gregor Townsend’s side started the stronger of the two sides and took advantage of a few early nerves and errors when Finn Russell finished off an attacking move he started with a pinpoint cross kick.
From there, it was virtually all Japan as Kenki Fukuoka and Kotaro Matsushima combined to see the latter wing score an excellent try. It was moments later that a break from Matsushima gave the hosts momentum, with the forwards showing brilliant hands to allow loosehead Keita Inagaki to dive over the line.
Somewhat surprisingly, the home side had the better of the scrums in the first half, with Scottish loosehead Allan Dell finding himself on the wrong end of the whistle.
While Tamura missed a couple of penalties, Japan were still able to go into the break two scores ahead after Lafaele toed a ball through which Fukuoka gathered with one hand and sprinted clear to score. Fukuoka made it a perfect start to the second half for Japan as he ripped the ball in the tackle and sprinted through a gap to seal the bonus-point and leave Scotland with a mountain to climb.
Tries from WP Nel and Zander Fagerson brought Scotland right back. Despite the visitors launching attack after attack during the final 15 minutes, a tiring Japan defence held on to claim a famous win.
Japan – Tries: Kotaro Matsushima, Keita Inagaki, Kenki Fukuoka (2). Conversions: Yu Tamura (4)
Scotland – Tries: Finn Russell, WP Nel, Zander Fagerson. Conversions: Greig Laidlaw (3).
Japan – 15 William Tupou, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch (c), 5 James Moore, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Jiwon Koo, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Subs: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Isileli Nakajima, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka.
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Darcy Graham, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 WP Nel, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Allan Dell.
Subs: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 George Horne, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Blair Kinghorn.
Photo: Kaz Photography/Getty Image