Scotland 45 Japan 10
Scotland got their World Cup campaign off to a perfect start with a 45-10 win over Japan in Gloucester – but only after Eddie Jones’ charges threatened to cause another upset.
For the first 40 minutes it was the Springbok slayers who looked set to repeat their giant-killing act after Amanaki Mafi crashed over for the opening try.
But Vern Cotter’s men ran in five second-half tries as the Brave Blossoms flagged just four days after stunning the world with their incredible win over South Africa.
A double from Mark Bennett on top of scores from John Hardie, Tommy Seymour and Finn Russell ensured the Scots avoided a potential banana skin as they also claimed a valuable bonus point.
Japan arrived at Kingsholm as the new darlings of the tournament after their barely-believable win over the Boks in Brighton.
With every neutral now seemingly a Japan supporter, the Pool B clash attracted a bumper TV audience, a packed-out crowd at the 16,500 venue and journalists from around the world as they hoped that lightning would strike twice.
However, Scotland had history on their side when it came to taking on the Asian champions. In four previous Tests they had ran up 33 tries and 221 points – with the astonishing 100-8 victory back in 2004 the most devastating of the beatings they have handed out.
But a lot has changed since then – as the Springboks can testify.
Jones made six changes to his Japanese line-up as he looked to freshen up a team pushed to the limit by their breathless victory on the south coast.
Scotland, though, got the start they were after as skipper Greig Laidlaw - cheered on by his club side’s supporters – nailed an early penalty.
But just seconds after he put over his second kick, Japan hit back in brutally simple fashion. Ayumu Goromaru’s kick into the corner teed up a line-out and it was sheer willpower that took Mafi over the line from the line-out drive for a try converted by Goromaru.
Laidlaw, though, ensured his team was not behind for long with two more flawless kicks as Japanese discipline – so clean against South Africa – began to fray at the edges.
But even when Kotaro Matsushima was sin binned for cynically playing the ball on the ground just as Scotland looked to launch a counter attack, Japan refused to relent.
While their opponents had kicked everything within sight of the posts, Michael Leitch, Japan’s captain, won applause when he told Goromaru to go for the corner. It was the same kind of bravery which saw them triumph on Saturday but when pragmatism eventually took over, Goromaru failed to do the necessary with his first penalty, tugging it wide
But Japan were sticking to the same cavalier game plan which worked wonders in Brighton, forcing Scotland to scramble under their own posts as they battered forward.
The Scots finally got themselves on the front foot in the final exchange before the break but just as Seymour looked set to dive over in the corner, Goromaru produced a stunning last-ditch tackle to maintain the five-point deficit.
Jones’ side remained on full-throttle mode as the game restarted and it took a last-gasp stop by Mark Bennett to prevent Mafi scoring again after he scooped up Ross Ford’s wild line-out throw.
It proved to be the number eight’s last involvement though as he was stretchered off with a neck injury. Goromaru, though, eased his side’s pain as he rattled over a penalty.
But Scotland extended their lead as they borrowed some of Japan’s attacking guile. Matt Scott’s beautiful offload allowed Sean Lamont to break ground and while their opponents were able to halt the Scots before Stuart Hogg could finish off, they were helpless as Hardie waited patiently for his chance in the corner.
Laidlaw fluffed the conversion but there was a let off again when Goromaru struck a post from his next effort.
But having put so much into their first two games, Japan were always likely to tire and Scotland took advantage. First Hogg slalomed 40 yards forward and when the gaps continued to appear in the Blossoms’ defence, Bennett sped through to score under the posts, with Laidlaw converting.
Scotland could finally breathe easy with 17 minutes left when Seymour intercepted a Yu Tamura pass before running 70 yards up field to put the game beyond Jones’ men. Again Laidlaw put over the extras.
By now the Japanese were running on empty and Bennett scored again to hand his side the all-important bonus point as he ghosted in off the back of ruck. Laidlaw added another successful conversion.
Russell then got in on the act as he collected a short pass from Laidlaw after a five-yard scrum and danced his way over for the firth touchdown. Laidlaw again converted.