September 25, 2021

Japan 28-21 Scotland: Host nation seal quarter final spot with victory to send Scotland home


What an extraordinary evening for Japan. What an embarrassing one for Scotland.

An inspired host nation turned in one of the greatest performances at this or any other World Cup to dump Gregor Townsend’s team out of the World Cup.

The question now is whether Townsend will resign after failing to take his team into the knock-out stages? It is only the second time Scotland have failed to make the last eight. The only other time it happened was when Andy Robinson was in charge in New Zealand in 2011.

Yu Tamura (top) congratulates Keita Inagaki after he scored Japan’s second try of the game 

Time could also be up for experienced players such as Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw who could retire from international rugby.

Although Scotland did stage a second half rally this momentous occasion was all about Japan. 

They wanted it more than Townsend’s team and kept going when it looked like they were going to run out of gas. 

In 2015 Japan beat South Africa and although they didn’t qualify out of their group made a film about it. Heaven knows what they will do to commemorate this very special moment.

Finn Russell had initially put Scotland in front after his seventh minute try

Kotaro Matsushima got Japan back into the game with his fifth try of the tournament

You could sense something special was going to happen as you walked up to the International Stadium in Yokohama. 

The night before a typhoon had killed 26 people and there are still 21 missing.

That tragedy seemed to heighten the emotions of the fans and the players from the start. 

There was a spine-tingling moment before kick-off when the Japan players walked slowly off the pitch after the warm up. 

Rather than head off one by one they locked arms and walked off shoulder to shoulder.

That got the home crowd going and from that moment the noise from their fans was relentless. 

There were a bit of noise from the Scotland fans when the faces of the likes of Darcy Graham and Stuart Hogg came on the big screen during the team announcement but that was one of the few moments their cheers were heard.

Kenki Fukuoka scored two fast-break tries to send Japan into a comfortable lead

An indication of how fired up Scotland was for the occasion came in the first minute. The normally undemonstrative Jonny Gray saw Allan Dell win a turnover and was so pumped he gestured to the Scotland fans to make their voices heard.

With just five minutes on the clock Scotland took a deserved lead. It all started with a cross kick from Finn Russell aimed for Darcy Graham. It looked like the Japanese defence had won the ball but the Scots stole it back.

They went through four attacking phases before Greig Laidlaw played a simple pass to Russell. 

The fly-half didn’t have to do much to get past two Japanese defenders for an easy score. Laidlaw converted to give Scotland the perfect start.

Defensively Scotland were sharp with Jamie Ritchie making a vital turnover in front of his own posts to stop a possible Japanese try. Fraser Brown also ripped it out of Japanese hands at a vital stage.

With 16 minutes on the clock Japan missed the chance to pull back three points. Jamie Ritchie was penalised for a no-arms tackle on Shota Horie but Yu Tamura, the man who had been so reliant with the boot all during the World Cup left, his effort short.

Zander Fagerson scored his side’s third try giving them hopes of a stunning comeback

Two minutes later Japan pulled level. Centre Chris Harris did well to make a tackle on Kenki Fukuoka but he managed to offload to winger Kotaro Matsushima. 

With Stuart Hogg in no-man’s land he made the most of the gaps in the Scottish defence to score. Tamura made up for his earlier penalty miss to put over the conversion.

Japan went ahead 14 minutes before the break with one of the greatest tries of this or any other World Cup. 

Kotaro Matsushima started the move by breaking through two tackles. Horie, James Moore were involved before William Tupou played a pop up pass to Keita Inagaki to score. Tamara put over the extras. 

Jonny Gray was lucky not to be yellow carded for what looked contact with the head of hooker Horie but breathed a big sigh of relief when referee Ben O’Keefe let him off with a warning.

Japan clearly felt they had the upper-hand over Scotland at the scrum opting for the set-piece rather than kicking to the corner for position. 

They were certainly ahead in the physical battle and won a penalty at the breakdown. 

Much to Scotland’s relief Tamura missed his second three point opportunity of the game.

Scotland tried to get back into the game but they left themselves with too much work to do

It didn’t matter too much as a minute before the break Japan got their third try. 

A clever kick ahead from Timothy Lafaele was anticipated by Fukuoka who ran in to score. Tamura put over the extras.

At half-time the Japanese fans celebrated their lead with a rousing rendition of Take Me Home Country Roads by John Denver in what was a surreal moment.

Gregor Townsend made no changes at half-time but maybe he should have. 

Two minutes after the re-start the Japanese side went further ahead. Centre Chris Harris, usually dependable in defence, had the ball stripped out of his grasp by Fukuoka who ran in to score. Tamura got the extras.

In the 49th minute Scotland saw their chances improve slightly when W P Nel crashed over for a try converted by Greig Laidlaw.

That brought a bit of hope for Scotland with Finn Russell trying all his tricks. 

It was a quick throw in that he took to himself that led to a forward surge by the Scotland pack that led to Zander Fagerson touching down from a pass from Gray. Russell put over the conversion.

Chris Harris battles with Timothy Lafaele of Japan to try and gain possession

Tempers flared up late in the game as Jamie Ritchie squared up to Yu Tamura

It was now just a seven point game with 23 minutes left. That led to even more noise from the Japanese crowd who were willing their team on.

Scotland thought they were right back in when Chris Harris went over but it was cancelled out because of a forward pass from Peter Horne in the build up.

Tempers were getting understandably frayed as the game reached its climax with Richie lucky to get away with a few late challenges.

As the clock kept ticking Scotland’s flair players tried everything in their power to dig their team out of a hole. With five minutes left Scotland had a line-out that they won.

It was spread wide to Harris then all the way across the park to Sam Johnson but still there was no way through. With three minutes left Scotland had a scrum put-in near the Japanese line.

It was now or never for Scotland. They won possession but couldn’t work their way out of their half. When Japan got a turnover that was it.

They kept it in the forwards until the final whistle when scenes of incredible joy broke out all over the stadium.

Japan will now go on to face South Africa in the quarter finals of their home World Cup

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