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2019 Rugby World Cup: Japan 28-21 Scotland

From Rugby World

2019 Rugby World Cup: Japan 28-21 Scotland


Played – 8

Japan wins – 1

Scotland wins – 7

Did You Know?

  • This is the first time Japan have ever made it to the knockout stages of a World Cup.
  • They will play South Africa in the quarter-finals next Sunday in Tokyo.
  • Fly-half Yu Tamura is the top point-scorer in the 2019 World Cup so far, with 48.
  • Scotland won all three of their previous World Cup match-ups against Japan in 1991, 2003 and 2015, scoring 17 tries and conceding just three.
  • Greig Laidlaw was captain for a fifth time at a Rugby World Cup, matching the Scotland record for David Sole and Bryan Redpath.
  • Scotland’s 34-0 win over Samoa and then 61-0 win over Russia made them the first side to win back-to-back RWC games without conceding a point. Overall they have nilled opposition on five occasions in World Cup history – a record.

Related: Rugby World Cup Fixtures

In a nutshell

The greatest day ever for Japanese rugby? It could well be the Rugby World Cup’s finest day ever, too.

Japan are through to the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. Last time round they became the first side to win three games and not go through. Well, they won every single game in the pool this time, dispatching Russia, Ireland, Samoa and then demolishing the Scots. And playing mind-bending rugby too.

So many words had been fired out before this match about whether it would be on. About the injustices of cancelling games. About relationships between unions. About how people felt about the World Cup.

Well, after this game, new love affairs will have begun between viewers and this sport. Particularly in Asia.

It all began at fever pitch.

Physical force: Kotaro Matsushima is tackled by Scotland (Getty Images)

Scotland could not take the kick-off but their defence began at its walloping best, with double tackles and Blade Thompson and Jamie Ritchie relishing the contact. We even got a rare glimpse of Jonny Gray pumping up the crowd.

With such direct physicality, they were able to retain ball, work upfield and Finn Russell got the first score, taking the ball off nine, sliding slightly to the right and dragging two defenders over with him.

But directness is not a trait of this Japanese team. In a flash Kotaro Matsushima became the joint leading try-scorer in this competition, getting his fifth of the tournament. Timothy Lafaele found himself on the wing and he fed Kenki Fukuoka, who let some lightning out of the bottle.

As Chris Harris’s hit sent him falling, the wing pulled an offload out of the depths. Matsushima gratefully ate it up and went over.

If that was blinding though, the next was even better.

Matsushima was bouncing tacklers in Scottish territory. Then Shota Horie – who has been a dynamo all tournament – hammered through. He hit James Moore, who fed William Tupou, who bounded right and then threw up another cracker offload to loosehead Keita Inagaki, who fell over to score.

There was a beautiful through kick for Fukuoka, who got Japan’s third. After the break he got the bonus-point score, too, a heartbreaker for optimistic Scots. And it was all individual brilliance. The wing caught Harris, stripped him of the ball, caught it as it spun in the air and then raced away for the try.

Scotland came back, though, with WP Nel burrowing over. Then they upped their own tempo again. Russell was throwing balls to himself from a quick lineout. Offloads were sticking. Tackles were brushed off. Gray got the ball, passed to Scott Cummings, who gave it back to Gray, and a trundling Zander Fagerson went over. It was game on again after a Russell conversion. Yep, 28-21, with 20 to go.

The pressure was on Scotland. They needed a fourth try and to finish eight points clear to deny Japan a place in the last eight. It got looser, possibly scarier for anyone with a vested interest in the outcome of this. But it was heart-pounding all the same.

And then it was about rearguard action from Japan. They were fierce. They saw it out. They made history.

Related: Rugby World Cup TV Coverage

Star man

Kenki Fukuoka was the embodiment of this game: lightning quick, resilient, perplexing. All he was missing was a week of talk solely about him.

The wing – who is in the latest issue of Rugby World magazine – is likely became a household name tonight. His 2019 will go down in lore in Japan for sure. He is set to play sevens in the Olympics and then soon – all too soon – he will leave rugby. He has other plans. But boy, we’re happy he was here.

The reaction

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend: “We are disappointed we weren’t able to win by more than eight points. We started really well but then we didn’t see much of the ball for the rest of the first half.

“Part of that was down to what Japan were doing when they had the ball, but the two tries we conceded were soft, one from our possession and another from a re-start.

“The players put a huge effort into that period after half-time and after 58 minutes we were only seven points behind. But we didn’t do enough in that last 20 minutes to get the win.”

Japan coach Jamie Joseph: ”

“Scotland were unbelievable. They took it to us from the start and scored. It was the tenacity I guess of our team at crucial parts of the test which helped. The fact we were playing at a home world cup – we can feel and see the level of support.

“I think the word attack is often reflected in the way you get the ball back. We are an attacking team as well. There are two sides. Scotland really hit us there.

“Persistence and confidence and trust the plan is what saw us through. In the last two or three minutes it was a test match we didn’t want to lose.”

The Squads

Japan: William Tupou (Ryohei Yamanaka 50); Kotaro Matsushima, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura (Rikiya Matsuda 74), Kenki Fukuoka; Yu Tamura, Yutaka Nagare (Fumiaki Tanaka 50); Keita Inagaki (Isileli Nakajima 56), Shota Horie (Atsushi Sakate 72), Jiwon Koo (Asaeli Ai Valu 21), Luke Thompson, James Moore (Uwe Helu 51), Michael Leitch (captain, Hendrik Tui 74), Pieter Labuschagne, Kazuki Himeno.

Tries: Matsushima 17, Inagaki 21, Fukuoka 39, 42. Cons: Tamura 18, 22, 40, 43.

Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour (Blair Kinghorn 51), Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Darcy Graham (Pete Horne 60); Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (captain) (George Horne); Allan Dell (Gordon Reid 51), Fraser Brown (Stuart McInally 51), Willem Nel (Zander Fagerson 51), Grant Gilchrist (Scott Cummings 51), Jonny Gray, Magnus Bradbury (Ryan Wilson 65), Jamie Ritchie, Blade Thomson.

Tries: Russell 6, Nel 49, Fagerson 54. Cons: Laidlaw 7, 50, Russell 55.

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