Japan wanted an idea of where they stand in world rugby. Saturday’s 42-17 defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield showed that while they have the ability to mix it with the big boys, they are still a way off breaking into the top 10.
The good news was Japan scored two of the game’s better tries through Kenki Fukuoka, and showed they are a threat to any side when they are allowed to play their fast-paced game.
The bad news was every time they came within striking distance of the Scots — ranked ninth compared with Japan’s 15th — the Brave Blossoms would ruin things with some indiscipline or a crucial error.
Three of Scotland’s six tries came when Japan were a man down after Ryu Koliniasi Holani and Ayumu Goromaru were sent to the sin bin in the 60th and 77th minutes, respectively, as the Scots ran away with the game in the closing 20 minutes.
“We can take a lot of positives,” said Japan stand-in coach Scott Wisemantel. “We came here to attack and run the ball but our game tempo and game control let us down especially after the (first) sin-binning.”
Fukuoka, Goromaru, Shinya Makabe and Michael Broadhurst all caught the eye as Japan tried to defy the conditions and upset the world rankings on a wet and cold day in the nation’s capital. But the Scots’ ability to slow the game down and Japan’s inability to work out exactly what referee JP Doyle wanted at the breakdown eventually proved to be the difference between the two sides.
“It was a good test match,” said Scotland coach Scott Johnson. “I said before that Japan are a formidable team and they showed they are a good rugby nation. They contributed to a reasonable spectacle.”
Two penalties from Greig Laidlaw saw Scotland go 6-0 up after 21 minutes as Japan made a hesitant start, giving away unnecessary penalties and ruining some good attacking play with some poor ball retention.
Their defense though could not be faulted as they tackled low and hard. But there are only so many tackles a team can make before cracks appear in the defensive line and Sean Maitland made the most of a couple of missed tackles to set up Tommy Seymour for the opening try in the 31st minute.
Fukuoka had already given a glimpse of things to come with a scintillating break four minutes earlier and it was another good run by the wing that set up field position from which Goromaru put Japan on the scoreboard with a penalty four minutes before the break, as the teams swapped ends with Scotland leading 11-3.
Any thoughts the locals in the crowd of 32,680 had of the game being nothing more than a training run were dispelled at the start of the second half when Japan scored a spectacular try.
A quick tap and go from Fumiaki Tanaka, a good break from Toshiaki Hirose and soft hands from Goromaru put Fukuoka away and the Scottish defense had no answer for his pace.
Goromaru added the extras to make it a one-point game, only for the Scots to hit back almost immediately, with Laidlaw finishing off some good work by the Scottish pack.
The one-point deficit was soon restored though when the Japan pack won a tighthead and Goromaru made a storming break before offloading to Fukuoka, who did his growing reputation no harm.
“He’s a pretty special player,” said Wisemantel. “He’s quick, got electric speed and has a very bright future.”
Goromaru’s conversion made it 18-17, but that was as close as things got.
A poor restart saw Seymour cross for his second try and with Holani and then Goromaru shown yellow cards, Scotland finished things off with tries from Alasdair Dickinson, Duncan Weir and Sean Lamont.
“I don’t think the score was an accurate reflection of the game,” said Wisemantel.
It was once again, as Japan captain Hirose pointed out, a case of what might have been.
“For 60 minutes we were equal,” he said. “We just need to find a way to play like that for 80 minutes.”
Japan now travel to Gloucester where they will take on the English Premiership side on Tuesday night. They will be without Fukuoka, who was only released for the one game by his university.
Kotaro Matsushima and So Kilryong will join the party with immediate effect as Yoshikazu Fujita will also return to Japan after next Friday’s test with Russia, meaning he will miss the Nov. 23 game against Spain.