Scotland beat Japan 21-16 in Tokyo to seal series victory

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland in Tokyo
Greig Laidlaw kicks a penalty for Scotland
Laidlaw came on 10 minutes into the second half and kicked four penalties
Japan (13) 16
Try: Shigeno Con: Tamura Pens: Tamura 3
Scotland (9) 21
Pens: Pyrgos 3, Laidlaw 4

Captain Greig Laidlaw came off the bench to rescue Scotland in Tokyo and give them a second victory against Japan to seal a 2-0 series win.

The deeply disjointed and rudderless visitors trailed 16-9 when Laidlaw entered the fray in the 50th minute.

They led 6-3 early on with two penalties from Henry Pyrgos but the hosts hit the front with a breathtaking 90-metre try finished by Kaito Shigeno.

But Laidlaw landed four kicks to avert a nightmarish end to Scotland's season.

It started a year ago with a summer training camp and the first of four pre-World Cup warm-up matches last August, but their 16th Test in a little over 10 months brought valuable ranking points before next year's draw for the 2019 event.

'Error mountain' checks Scots' progress

The Test - or at least the second half - was watched by the Imperial couple - Emperor Akihito and and Empress Michiko. This was the first time they have ever seen Japan play live and they should really have seen them win, too.

Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko wave to the crowd after arriving at the Ajinomoto Stadium
Japan couldn't reward the watching Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko with a win

Scotland created virtually nothing all day while Japan played most of the rugby. They have good cause to feel aggrieved by some of the penalties given against them by referee Marius Mitrea. They were harshly dealt with at times.

That first half was a horror show for Scotland. Sure, the heat and humidity was a factor but they built an error mountain out there, any hope of momentum getting checked early by a battery of mistakes.

The Scots were ahead 6-3 coming to the end of the first quarter - two Pyrgos penalties to one from Yu Tamura.

In the midst of all of that, Ruaridh Jackson's telegraphed pass had been picked off by Tim Bennetts, the Japan centre, who went all the way to the posts. Play was called back and the try chalked off. That was Scotland's warning. They didn't heed it.

'A try for the ages'

Japan's try was a score for the ages, a piece of brilliance that would - OK, might - have had the Emperor on his feet in giddy applause had he not delayed his arrival until half-time. It had its origins inside Japan's own 22.

An epic breakaway came roaring out of defence, sweeping left and drawing the Scotland defence, then in a glorious blur sweeping across field. It was all done at breakneck speed and with unerring accuracy. Scotland were panting and wheezing in an attempt to keep up. They couldn't.

It was testament to Japan's mindset - and footballing ability - that a number eight, Amanaki Mafi, and an open-side, Shoukei Kin, were the ones who punched the final holes and unloaded the final pass, to Shigeno, who darted away to score.

Former Scotland captain Andy Nicol on BBC Scotland:
"That was as good a try as you will ever see. If it was the All Blacks scoring that, we would be eulogising about it for years."

Tamura added the conversion to worsen Scotland's plight. Pyrgos put over a third penalty to reduce the damage but Tamura merely knocked over one of his own soon after. Scotland looked an error-ridden, rudderless mess.

Scotland withstand Japanese charge

Vern Cotter replaced his entire front row at the break, then brought on John Hardie for the injured Ryan Wilson in the back row. Japan's response was to add another three points from Tamura's boot.

It was at that point that Cotter pressed the emergency button, taking off Pyrgos and replacing him with Laidlaw in an attempt to bring some direction. Laidlaw's boot swiftly made it 16-12 and then 16-15.

It was a one-point game now, a game that South Africa-based centre Huw Jones had been thrust into for his debut at the expense of the lost Jackson, Peter Horne moving to 10.

Japan replacement Kosei Ono is tackled by Scotland's Ruaridh Jackson
Japan replacement Kosei Ono fumbled the ball just short when poised to score

Japan kicked on from there but couldn't land a blow. They mounted some huge assaults on the Scottish line, looking for all the world like they had to score until Kosei Ono lost the head, dived for the line and lost the ball.

They came again, but Scotland held out. And then they struck out.

The Scottish scrum proved decisive, winning a penalty within Laidlaw's range, the captain proceeding to bang it over as you knew he would to give the visitors an improbable 18-16 lead with 10 minutes left.

Laidlaw wrapped it up with another penalty three minutes from time.

Team line-ups:

Japan: Riyika Matsuda, Male Sau, Tim Bennetts, Harumichi Tatekawa, Yasutaka Sasakura, Yu Tamura, Kaito Shigeno; Keita Inagaki, Shota Horie (captain), Kensuke Hatakeyama; Hitoshi Ono, Naohiro Kotaki; Hendrik Tui, Shokei Kin, Amanaki Mafi.

Replacements: Takeshi Kizu (for Horie, 61) Masataka Mikami (for Inagaki, 71), Shinnosuke Kakinaga (for Hatakeyama, 61), Kotaro Yatabe (for Ono, 66), Ryu Koliniasi Holani, Keisuke Uchida (for Shigeno, 62), Kosei Ono (61), Mifiposeti Paea.

Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Matt Scott, Peter Horne, Sean Maitland, Ruaridh Jackson, Henry Pyrgos (capt), Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally, Moray Low, Richie Gray, Jonny Gray, Josh Strauss, John Barclay, Ryan Wilson.

Replacements: Fraser Brown (for McInally, 41), Gordon Reid (for Sutherland, 41), Willem Nel (for Low, 41), Tim Swinson (for Barclay, 68), John Hardie (for Wilson, 44), Greig Laidlaw (for Pyrgos, 50), Huw Jones (for Jackson, 58), Sean Lamont (for Maitland, 80).

Attendance: 34,073

Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)

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