Wishy-washy Scotland have a bit of cleaning up to do for next Test
Cotter admits players lacked cohesion but expects second match to be different
FIRST game of the tour; first as a team for almost three months; first for many of the players for at least four weeks. This was a team where all the cogs had clogged up. The question now is whether one run is enough to clear the legacy of inaction and send Scotland into the second Test ready to cut out the mistakes and win with a bit of style.
Nobody is kidding themselves. Scotland may have won the first encounter, but there was not a lot of swagger about it and barring the period when the home side were down first one and then two men, it was a classic clash between the European muscle power and Eastern speed and invention.
The moment of the game belonged to the home side. A tap penalty sent Amanaki Mafi, the No.8, careering down the touchline and finding support so that Shota Horie, the captain, could stroll over the line a phase later, and there was a lot more ambition from the players in red than the ones in blue.
However, in the end, power told. With the Japanese lineout misfiring and the visiting forwards enjoying a significant weight advantage, Scotland were able to cash-in on the period when the Brave Blossoms were short-handed and collect two tries to give them the cushion to see out the largely inconclusive play of the rest of the game.
It was such an itsy-bitsy, wishy-washy game, with neither side able to establish much of a pattern, that it is hard to work out what it means for next week, when the home side will have the advantage of Akihito, the Emperor of Japan turning up for his first experience of Test rugby. In this staunchly traditional country, that is bound to add a bit of extra motivation for the home side.
For Scotland, it is clear that they have a lot of cleaning up to do.
“There are a few things to iron out,” admitted Ryan Wilson, the No. 8. “Our discipline was good in attack and we didn’t give much away in defence in terms of penalties, but we lost the ball a few times and we have to clean that up. Our lineout worked well and our set piece was good.
“It was our first game in that sort of heat. It was very hot out there. There were a few tired bodies at half-time, but we pride ourselves on being a fit team and we said that the second half would be where we’d get them. We saw a few of the Japanese players going down in the first half and we felt we could really go at them out there.
“We maybe forced a few things too much. We’re a team that is trying to play a bit, but there were a few times when we maybe underestimated them a bit at the breakdown. They are very quick and good over the ball. That’s another thing that we’ll have to look at.”
Strangely, though, Vern Cotter reckoned that the breakdown had been one of the success stories of the night, and that the overall performance was up a level upon the end of the Six Nations.
“The team prepared well,” the head coach said.
“There were parts where we didn’t have that cohesion that we would have liked, but compared to the Ireland game – where I thought we weren’t particularly good at contact – we lifted that. It is satisfying to know that we could look at that performance and correct things.
“We knew they would be very quick over the ball. We watched some junior rugby here and saw young kids, just five years old, on hit pads – contact is one of the things they are very strong at. They get numbers there quickly. It will be another ball game next Saturday in Tokyo.
“There was reasonable composure, but we can execute and develop our game better. I thought we could have a little bit more movement before contact. There’s a whole range of things we can improve, but overall I’m happy to get the win.”
Scotland did that mainly through the boot of Greig Laidlaw, whose personal haul was 16 points. The tries both came when Japan had a man or men in the sin bin.
T he first came when Hendrik Tui, the flanker, was off for coming in the side of a ruck, and after hammering the line through the forwards Stuart Hogg was on the point of sending Tommy Seymour in when Rikiya Matsuda, the replacement full-back, slapped the ball away. Scotland got the penalty try and Matsuda joined his colleague in the bin.
The Scots made hard work of using their two-man advantage, but in the end Willem Nel burrowed his way over the line and they had a 13-point advantage that they held to the end. Japan hit back with that Horie try, but realistically, those 13 minutes short-handed had ended their resistance.
STOP RIGHT THERE: John Barclay gets to grips with Tim Bennetts during Saturday’s Test at Toyota Stadium.
A BREAK FOR IT: Hogg attempts to scamper free from a Japanese tackle