World Cup, Group B, Kingsholm – Scotland 45 (Tries: Hardie, Bennett 2, Seymour, Russell; Cons: Laidlaw; Pens: Laidlaw) Japan 10 (Try: Mafi; Con: Goromaru; Pen: Goromaru)
Japan’s World Cup dream came apart in Gloucester as Scotland ran riot in the second half to claim an impressive 45-10 victory. A sparkling second half performance by Vern Cotter’s men saw them run away to a comfortable over giant-killers Japan, who had been the talk of the tournament after their stunning 34-32 win over South Africa on Saturday. And another shock seemed possible when Japan scored the opening try of the match after just 14 minutes, even if a string of penalty infringements by the underdogs allowed Greig Laidlaw to keep Scotland’s noses in front at half-time. In the second period, however, the wheels came off for Eddie Jones’s heroes, with tired Japanese legs creating space for an impressive Scottish back division to rack up five tries.
Inspired by searing line breaks by the excellent Stuart Hogg, Scotland took the lead through a try by John Hardie, and stretched that lead as Mark Bennett burst through a gap in a tired Japanese defensive line. A breakaway score by Tommy Seymour put the game to bed, before Bennett’s second secured what could be a crucial bonus point, leaving birthday-boy Finn Russell to put the cherry on top with a fifth second-half try late on. For Scotland it was a relief to get a big win under their belts first up in the competition, while Japan’s challenge of playing two of the established rugby nations with just four days’ rest in between proved too tough an ask.
Japan never given a chance by brutal schedule: Just four days of rest for Japan between the South Africa and Scotland games was always going to be tough, and so it proved, as they tired visibly in the second half. In previous World Cups the lack of recovery time for the smaller nations has also been an issue, but the Cherry Blossoms’ win on Saturday, followed by their second half capitulation at Kingsholm, shows just how much of an impact it has on nations already struggling to compete with smaller pools of players. It’s an off-shoot of the tournament format, with five teams per pool – and it’s about time the IRB did something about it.