GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND – Japan was unable to make it two Rugby World Cup wins in four days as it went down 45-10 to Scotland in Pool B at Kingsholm on Wednesday.
Forced into a four-day turnaround and with potential match-winner Amanaki Leilei Mafi stretchered off in the 44th minute, Japan played bravely but was never able to repeat the magic of its historic win over South Africa on the opening weekend.
On a mild day in this rugby mad-town, Japan had to start well to win over the neutrals in the crowd and stop the Scots — who were playing their first game in the tournament — in their tracks.
But tiredness and nervousness — two traits missing against the Springboks — seemed to haunt the Brave Blossoms early on.
Handling errors from the likes of Michael Leitch and Fumiaki Tanaka and a missed kick from Ayumu Goromaru were evident of that. And with the pack — not to mention Kotaro Matsushima, who was sent to the bin for a professional foul — getting on the wrong side of referee John Lacey, the Scots took full advantage.
“We had them locked down for the first 60 minutes but after that we sort of started to lose our composure and had some tries scored against us,” said Leitch.
“We’re not the strongest team out there but we are definitely one of the toughest. The Japanese players are really resilient. I am proud of the boys and we just have to look forward to (our next game against) Samoa.”
Japan scored the only try of the half through Mafi, converted by Goromaru, but Greig Laidlaw kicked four from five penalties as Scotland led 12-7 at the break — though to their credit the Brave Blossoms did hold the Scots scoreless while Matsushima was in the bin.
The Scots lead could have been more too, but a superb try-saving tackle from Goromaru on Tommy Seymour just before the break ensured the Brave Blossoms were still in the game when the sides came out for the second stanza.
But their hopes of a second upset took a huge hit four minutes into the half, when Mafi was stretchered off following a couple of storming runs.
Goromaru closed the gap to two points from the resulting penalty, only for the Scots to hit back with John Hardie going over in the corner after Japan was guilty of one pass too many in midfield.
At 17-10, it was still anyone’s game but Japan couldn’t afford to let Scotland get the next score, and when Goromaru missed a relatively simple kick at goal it seemed to indicate it was not going to be Japan’s day.
And so it proved.
Mark Bennett crossed twice and Finn Russell and Seymour both added five pointers with Laidlaw adding four conversions as the Scots ran the exhausted Brave Blossoms ragged.