Scotland’s time at the Rugby World Cup is over after defeat to Japan by 28 points to 21.
For many, this is a shock, a historic tier-one nation coming under siege to a Japanese team that has never seen beyond the group stages. However, the majority of seasoned rugby fans will now believe this to be a result that not only is just but also is a result that may begin to look all the more familiar.
Japan to that end was excellent, the national team was able to put on a show on the field that added even more praise to a host nation that has excelled at holding this year's tournament. With the country under assault from Typhoon Hagibis, the strongest the nation had seen in decades, they managed to turn the clock around in time for the Yokohama International Stadium to host a major game in what were near-perfect conditions.
The team itself was faultless. The backs seemingly forgetting this was a game of 15-a side rugby and not the faster-paced sevens game.
Matsushima and Fukuoka were both brutal with their finishing, but it was centre Ryoto Nakamura who stood out in particular. Not only did he put a shift in when called upon defensively, leading to both Sam Johnson and Chris Harris having largely quiet games, but his off-load game was something anyone player would have gaped at. He may not have had his name on the score sheet on this occasion, but Japan would certainly not have accumulated the points they did without his services.
In the pack, it was another breakdown master class from the forwards. Scotland had managed to come back to just a score down with 25 minutes to play but found no further points in the remaining quarter. This was largely down to the toil put in from the Japanese loose-forwards in particular, turning the ball over in key areas as Scotland continued to try and level the score at 28 apiece.
Each individual in that pack stood up to be counted throughout. The emotion was clear to see, Ji-Won Koo epitomised this as he was forced off injured after just 20 minutes, tears evident as he walked off he was welcomed to a rapturous ovation from the sell-out 72,000 fans inside the ground.
Once again though it was Michael Leitch who stole the show for the forwards. When Japan regained possession in the ruck, you’d be left scratching your head if Michael Leitch was not at least involved with that particular offence.
Looking at the other side of the coin, Scotland simply didn’t show face in the nit and grit of the match, something however which may not simply just down to the players.
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend made his tactical decisions very obvious from the off, match Japan pace for pace and we (Scotland will win), sadly Gregor, the “fastest brand of rugby” you once promised Scotland fans was well and truly beaten by the free-flowing Japanese, who any back-line could take note from.
This ‘playing out from the back’ approach from Scotland was spotted and dealt with easily from the Japanese, whose forwards would easily reclaim possession from well inside Scotland’s half.
From there it was simple, play the ball wide and run, sounds simple, but worked to deadly effect. On too many occasions young prospect Darcy Graham, along with Tommy Seymour on the other wing, were caught in awkward two versus one situations, leading to easy run in’s for Japan for two of their tries.
A revival (or attempted one) was spirited but proved ultimately ineffective. The arrival of Zander Fagerson and Scott Cummings brought a raft of crash balls from the Scots in Japanese territory, something that had been virtually unheard of in the first half, this resulted in Fagerson crossing the whitewash to reduce the deficit to seven with 25 minutes to go.
No further points were scored in the remaining minutes. Instead, the Japanese defence came to the fore again, culminating in them effectively maintaining the ball for the closing minutes.
As soon as Japan turned over Scotland’s final attempted attack, the celebrations around the stadium would be tough to beat for the remainder of the tournament, standing in true testament to a simply extraordinary country that had just faced a major natural disaster.
As Scotland bow out (literally) at the group stage for just the second time, what next for Japan? A quarter-final against the powerful beasts South Africa. If Japan can compete and maybe even win the breakdown battle again, there is no reason to suggest why they shouldn’t look to win.