Japan coach Jamie Joseph complained afterwards that the visitors were rusty after not playing together from the World Cup until this summer, and they certainly seemed to offer little penetration with the ball in hand. This was, said Joseph, partly because of their own shortcomings, but Scotland’s defence in general and Man of the Match Chris Harris in particular, with the outside centre putting opposite number Shogo Nakano out of action with two sledgehammer tackles in the first half.
Although Japan were successful in keeping the ball for substantial periods, they rarely looked in danger of breaching Scotland’s line. Indeed, apart from wing Kotaro Matsushima’s sparkling break for their second penalty, their only threat was keeping the ball in hand and drawing penalties. It was a successful approach though, Rikiya Matsuda kicking two of three penalties before the break and three afterwards.
Scotland seemed to be more focused on try-scoring, and they started early, with Duhan van der Merwe barrelling over from a lineout after just six minutes. Hogg then added a beautifully constructed score midway through the half when he beat three men and fed Harris before the ball was moved all the way across the field to the left wing, with Hogg coming onto the ball at pace for Scotland’s second try. Another Hawick back, wing Darcy Graham, further extended Scotland’s lead when he wriggled over after Russell’s ghosting break off the back of a scrum gave Scotland a comfortable 19-6 lead at the break.
Further tries were hard to come by after the break as Japan’s aggressive blitz defence was successful at stopping Scotland out wide, often behind the gainline. So it was no surprise when Scotland’s final try came from a set-piece move, Stuart McInally flopping over at the back of a lineout drive try just seconds after coming on for George Turner. That score put Scotland in command at 26-12, but with Scotland throwing on a slew of replacements they lost their way somewhat and Japan began to come back into the game.
An alarmingly soft try from replacement blindside Tebita Tatafu, who broke through the centre of the home side’s lineout and flopped over, was the standout score, but the Brave Blossoms also ate away at Scotland’s lead. Two penalties in the moments after half-time had brought the visitors back into the game, and following Tatafu’s try Japan then drew to within six points of Scotland when Matsua’s fifth penalty made it 26-20.
In the circumstances, and given the trauma of Yokohama, it was no surprise when Hogg took control and ordered Russell to kick a 78th-minute penalty rather than go to the corner as he had planned.
Townsend hails selfless Hogg after full-back sets new try-scoring record
By Richard Bath
Gregor Townsend has claimed that Stuart Hogg could have scored even more tries had the full-back not been so keen to make chances for team-mates since becoming Scotland captain. The coach spoke shortly after Hogg’s try in his side’s 29-20 win over Japan at Murrayfield on Saturday made him the top try-scorer in Scotland’s history.
“The biggest development in Stuart’s game is how much he plays for others,” said Townsend. “The biggest change in the last two years is he puts something on the ball so others can do better. He could carry the ball himself or kick the ball himself and not pass, and he’d still have a great game, but he tries to bounce out to a second defender to give team-mates an opportunity.”
Hogg, who has also overtaken Scott Murray to become Scotland’s fourth most capped player after Ross Ford (110), Chris Paterson (109) and Sean Lamont (105), has been in prolific form this year. As well as his try against Japan he scored two against South Africa last week and two against Wales in the Six Nations to bring his tally to five in eight Tests for Scotland in 2021 – and 25 in total.
Hogg’s Indian summer at the age of 29 is partly because he enjoys the challenge of leadership so much, Townsend suggested. “The longer he’s been in the role, the more he’s been able to enjoy it,” the coach said.
“He was really looking forward to getting the opportunity to captain the team. He’s a proud Scot that loves his Scottish rugby history, so he knew what an honour this [breaking the try-scoring record] would be.”
Townsend also paid tribute to the impact of the Borders town of Hawick. Hogg broke the record jointly held by Ian Smith who scored 24 tries in 32 tests between 1924-33, and Hogg’s fellow Hawick man Tony Stanger, who also scored 24 tries but in 52 Tests.
“For a small place, Hawick has provided so many Scotland players,” said Townsend. “It already had the joint record-holder, so to have a winger and a full-back from the same club holding the record together and then for Stuart to go on and break the record which had stood for close to 100 years was fantastic. It was great for Hawick as well that Darcy Graham scored another try [against Japan]. Well done Hawick.”