24 Jun Full-time: Japan 16-21 Scotland
Scotland kept their unbeaten record against Japan at Test level intact with a hard fought summer Test win in Tokyo tonight (21-16), completing a 2-0 series win against their hosts.
In front of the largest ever crowd for an international match in the country Scotland ended their 2015/16 campaign with a professional, if unspectacular victory.
On a sweltering night at the Ajinomoto Stadium in the presence of Emperor Akihito Scotland finished a tight game with a sense of control that had eluded them over the first 60 minutes.
Japan, for their part, played as expected, and close to their Rugby World Cup form, to consistently test Scotland’s heart, lungs and legs whenever they had possession.
Right from the opening kick-off it was clear both teams wanted to play with ball in hand, but it was Japan that were getting over the gain line and threatened the visitors defence.
An early Henry Pyrgos penalty, his first kicked points in a Scotland shirt, opened the scoring, before swapping penalties with his Japanese counterpart (3-6).
A defensive lineout in their own 22 then proved an unlikely starting point for Japan’s, and the game’s, only try of the match on 21 minutes.
Japan secured quick possession and countered at pace and in numbers.
In a sweeping move, which saw the ball pass through many hands, the hosts were roared to the far corner by their passionate fans for an impressive try.
Quick recycling, miss passes and off-loads all featured as Scotland tried desperately to slow down the attack and get bodies behind the ball, but a final inside pass to scrum half Shigeno saw him complete a memorable score.
The conversion took Japan into a 10-3 lead.
The rest of the first half couldn’t match the quality of the try and handling errors and penalties disrupted any flow, with neither team able to create a consistent platform.
Two penalties from Pyrgos got Scotland twithin a point at 10-9, but a penalty for Japan on 28 minutes gave them the half-time lead.
Half-time: Japan 13-10 Scotland
Scotland took the initiative in the second half, starting a new front row after Gordon Reid, Fraser Brown and Willem Nel came on for Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally and Moray Low respectively.
Scotland worked hard to tighten up the game and, as the heat took its toll, the bench helped to ensure fresh legs could wear down the Japanese pack, especially at scrum time.
A swap of one scrum-half captain for another saw Greig Laidlaw replace Pyrgos on 50 minutes, while Huw Jones made his Scotland debut, coming on in the 57th minute for Ruaridh Jackson.
Scotland restricted Japan to just a single penalty in the second 40 minutes despite regularly coming under pressure from an attack-minded Japan.
A knock-on at the base of their posts was the fortunate outcome after Japan’s best attack of the second half, while Scotland were forced to dig deep for a 10 minute spell around the hour mark.
But slowly the scrum started to get its reward and Laidlaw kicked four penalties to punish Japanese infringements to turn a 13-9 half time score into a 16-21 win.
2016 Summer Tour:
Japan v Scotland, Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo
Saturday 25 June (kick-off 11.20am BST) – live on BBC
SCOTLAND SELECTION NEWS
Head Coach Vern Cotter has made six personnel changes to the Scotland team to face Japan in this Saturday’s second summer Test match at the Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo.
The alterations are split evenly between the backs and forwards, with a positional switch made in each division to accommodate the new faces.
Scrum-half Henry Pyrgos, wing Sean Maitland and centre Peter Horne all come off the bench to start the match, with Pyrgos taking on the captaincy and kicking duties from Greig Laidlaw.
Horne comes into midfield in place of the injured Duncan Taylor (hamstring), prompting a move to outside-centre for Matt Scott to accommodate the Warriors playmaker.
In the pack, Rory Sutherland remains in possession of the loosehead berth he inherited in the third minute of last weekend’s Test win over Japan, when Alasdair Dickinson limped off with a hamstring injury, earning his first start for the national team.
On the other side of the front-row, Moray Low swaps places with try-scorer Willem Nel, while Josh Strauss comes in to the back-row for John Hardie, with John Barclay moving to openside to make room for Strauss on the blindside.
JAPAN SELECTION NEWS
Japan coach Mark Hammett has made just two changes to the side that started last week’s 26-13 defeat.
The physical presence of Male Sa’u, who is returning from injury, has been added to the wing (rather than his more favoured outside-centre role), while Rikiya Matsuda was named at full-back.
Sa’u comes in for Mifiposeti Paea, who drops to the bench, while Matsuda replaces Kotaro Matsushima, who has an injured hamstring.
Elsewhere there is just one other change in the match-day 23, with number 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani named among the replacements at the expense of Hiroki Yamamoto.
Saturday’s game will be played in front of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, just the second time the imperial couple have watched a rugby game — the first being an All Japan Championship game between Kobe Kobelco Steelers and Yamaha Jubilo in 2014.
Japan: 15.Rikiya Matsuda; 14.Male Sa’u, 13. Tim Bennetts, 12. Harumuchi Tatekawa CAPTAIN, 11. Yasutaka Sasakura; 10. Yu Tamura, 9. Kaito Shigeno; 1. Keita Inagaki, 2. Shota Horie, 3. Kensuke Hatakeyama, 4. Hitoshi Ono, 5. Naohiro Kotaki, 6. Hendrik Tui, 7. Shokei Kin, 8. Amanaki Mafi. Substitites: 16. Takeshi Kizu, 17. Masataka Mikami, 18. Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 19. Kotaro Yatabe, 20. Masahito Yamamoto, 21. Keisuke Uchida, 22. Kobei Ono, 23.Mifiposeti Paea.
Scotland: 15. Stuart Hogg; 14. Tommy Seymour, 13. Matt Scott, 12. Peter Horne, 11. Sean Maitland (Saracens); 10. Ruaridh Jackson, 9. Henry Pyrgos CAPTAIN; 1. Rory Sutherland, 2. Stuart McInally, 3. Moray Low, 4. Richie Gray, 5. Jonny Gray, 6. Josh Strauss, 7. John Barclay (Scarlets), 8. Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors). Substitutes: 16. Fraser Brown, 17. Gordon Reid, 18. Willem Nel, 19. Tim Swinson, 20. John Hardie, 21. Greig Laidlaw, 22. Huw Jones, 23. Sean Lamont.
2016 Summer Tour
Saturday 25 June: Japan v Scotland, Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo (KO 7.20pm local, 11.20am BST) – live on BBC
Scotland / Japan games over the years:
2016: Japan 13-26 Scotland, Toyota City Stadium
2015: Scotland 45-10 Japan, Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester (RWC 2015)
2013: Scotland 42-17 Japan, BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh
2010: Scotland XV 24-5 Japan Select, BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh (uncapped match)
2004: Scotland 100-8 Japan, McDiarmid Park, Perth
2003: Japan 11-32 Scotland, Dairy Farmers Stadium, Townsville (RWC 2003)
1991: Scotland 47-9 Japan, BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh (RWC 1991)
1989: Japan 28-24 Scotland XV, Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo (uncapped match)
1986: Scotland XV 33-18 Japan, BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh (uncapped match)
1977: Japan 9-74 Scotland XV, Olympic Stadium, Tokyo (uncapped match)
1976: Scotland XV 34-9 Japan, BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh (uncapped match)