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Dublin: 7 °C Tuesday 19 November, 2019
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It’s the game the whole rugby world has been talking about this week.

With Typhoon Hagibis raging in Japan, we expected the host nation’s pool-deciding clash with Scotland to be called off.

But the air has cleared by all accounts and the devastation and anguish wrought by the storm has not been enough to stop the organisers from putting on a finale to Pool A.

It’s a chance for redemption for Scotland, who must channel their week-long frustrations into a big performance. And it’s an opportunity for Japan to show they didn’t need a cancellation to help them through to the knockout stages.

Kick-off in Yokohama, as unlikely as it seemed yesterday, is at 11.45 Irish time (eir Sport).

One interesting story going around this morning is the IRFU’s very strong response to a line in the Sunday Times from Stephen Jones.

Jones wrote that Ireland had attempted to sway World Rugby against a possible rearranging of this fixture, a move which we all felt would have been needed to prevent a cancellation. He went on to allude to a history of bad blood between the SRU and IRFU, including that RWC 2023 bid voting debacle.

The IRFU, though, hit back with:  “Referring to The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) being ‘vehemently opposed’ to any rearrangement of the Scotland V Japan Rugby World Cup fixture is completely false and the inference within the article that the IRFU made representations to World Rugby on the matter is totally without foundation.”

So there you have it.

An extra little spice to the game ahead, which franly has enough riding on it as it is.

Ireland currently top Pool A with 16 points, with Japan (14) and Scotland (10) still in contention to take the one remaining spot in the quarter-finals.

Two points will do for Japan to top the pool. They can get that by drawing, or even by losing while scoring four tries and coming within seven points of the Scots.

Gregor Townsend will only end the day happy if Scotland get four more match points than the Brave Blossoms (5-1 or (4 – 0).

So they can either beat the Blossoms while denying them a bonus point. If Japan do get one point, Scotland must get a bonus of their own.

Here are your runners and riders for today then.

Japan: William Tupou; Kotaro Matsushima, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Kenki Fukuoka; Yu Tamura, Yutaka Nagare; Keita Inagaki, Shota Horie, Jiwon Koo, Luke Thompson, James Moore, Michael Leitch (captain), Pieter Labuschagne, Kazuki Himeno.

Replacements: Atsushi Sakate, Isileli Nakajima, Asaeli Ai Valu. Uwe Helu, Hendrik Tui, Fumiaki Tanaka, Rikiya Matsuda, Ryohei Yamanaka.

Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Darcy Graham; Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (captain); Allan Dell, Fraser Brown, Willem Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Blade Thomson.

Replacements: Stuart McInally, Gordon Reid, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Ryan Wilson, George Horne, Pete Horne, Blair Kinghorn.

A minute’s silence and two anthems have been observed. Now it’s time for kick-off.

1Mins

Japan kick off short to mount an early attack, but just look at Scotland celebrating as they force a turnover penalty.

Jonny Gray fist-pumping like it’s full-time as they win the referee’s decision. 

3Mins

This is a manic opening.

Scotland’s attack breaks down in the 22 after Russell’s attempted chip through and Japan hack clear. There’s a frantic chase back into Scottish territory, but Tommy Seymour does well to get to the loose ball first and secure possession. 

4Mins

Japan begin to look dangerous and bring out that nice wide-wide pattern, but they’re pinged for side entry to the attacking ruck and Scotland have another call to celebrate.

6Mins

Superb from Russell, this time his kick is a beaut. Cross-field into space it sits up invitingly for Darcy Graham to go at, but the defender is there too…

8Mins

Sensational start for Scotland and Russell.

After Tamura denied their initial attack via the cross-kick, Scotland recycle well and set up the attack.

Russell takes nice quick ball five metres out and cuts through flat-footed forwards to dot down.

Laidlaw then makes it a maximum.

Japan 0 Scotland 7

13Mins

Jonny Gray is leading a ferocious defensive effort from Scotland. They are suffocating the Brave Blossoms, denying them the fast ball that did so much damage to Ireland.

Gilchrist is having a big game so far too, and comes up with a rip as Japan mount a central attack.

14Mins

A penalty comes against the Scottish rearguard. Japan are certainly not letting themselves be discouraged off that brilliant Tony Brown attacking gameplan. It takes serious intensity to keep pushing it back.

Who will relent first?

17Mins

Tamura, who has been pretty shaky off the tee throughout this tournament, drops his 45-metre attempt short and right of the target.

Scotland clear from their 22, but the red and white wave will come right back at them.

19Mins

There’s the breakthrough, Fukuoka tosses up a lovely offload while he’s going to ground and Matsushima storms away into space and over the try-line.

Tamura’s conversion isn’t wholly convincing, but it’s over!

Japan 7 Scotland 7

Some game.

24Mins

Now it’s Japan’s turn to celebrate like a Waterford hurler when the penalty goes their way.

A big scrum effort 30 metres from their line forces the referee’s hand.

The line-out from Horie is overthrown, but Matsushima is first to it at the back. And then Scotland win the turnover ball.

25Mins

Russell kicked the hard-won possession away and so back come Japan.

Lovely wide shape brings Leitch on a big carry on the right.

Two phases later, Matsushima is again through on a half-break…

Flag 25Mins

TRY! Japan 14 Scotland 7 (Inagaki ’25)

Utterly sensational stuff from Japan. The offloads start flowing and Scotland just can’t get enough men around the ball to stop them connecting all the way under the posts.

36Mins

Apologies for not adequately describing that try.

Here’s why.

Try of the tournament so far, for me.

29Mins

And it could be going really pear shaped for Scotland now, because Jonny Gray is the subject of  TMO check for a shot on Horie.

31Mins

Wow. Referee Ben O’Keefe is basically ignoring the framework being used on every other head-on-head collision.

He says there is “no foul play” as he thanks the TMO for his referral, but moves on to a Scottish scrum.

Horie dipped, so he might have gotten away with giving a yellow card. But to award nothing at all for that high shot is very, very strange.

32Mins

And to cap the whole mess off, O’Keefe decides there’s need for a HIA after watching the replay of the hooker getting smashed in the temple.

38Mins

All that early fire and fury from Scotland has been dampened down by this exhilarating effort from Japan.

The Blossoms’ pack are turning the screw at scrum time and the pace of the back-line attack is creating mini-line-breaks aplenty.

40Mins

Tamura’s penalty off the latest scrum success is another miss, however, the kick from the right veers left across the face of the goal.

Sen.

Bloody.

Sational.

Scotland were only seven down, but the tide was already firmly against them when Japan came back after the missed kick.

Slick hands take them wide and a chip through is chased by Fukuoka, who pulls a Stockdale-esque finish by taking in the bouncing ball and accelerating over the line.

Tamura’s penalties may be going awry, but his conversions are hitting the mark.

Japan 21 Scotland 7

HALF-TIME: Japan 21 Scotland 7

Our man in Japan is suitably impressed.

40Mins

Here comes the second half.

Scotland looked utterly deflated at the end of the first 40. Is there a way back for them against this sensational Japan attack?

42Mins

Unbelievable stat from half-time that underlines Japan’s dominance in possession. They made just 31 tackles all half.

All effort channelled into their attack.

46Mins

Fukuoka, the star of Japanese rugby who was injured for the opening round of the tournament, forces a turnover with a rip in midfield and then regathers, puts the hammer down and scorches under the posts.

Scotland need nothing short of a miracle to qualify from here. A bonus-point win by more than seven points.

Ireland can get prepared to face New Zealand.

49Mins

Tempers beginning to flare now, particularly for Jamie Ritchie who reacts to a dangerous enough tackle on a team-mate by pinning a blossom to the pitch. He gets up and blasts into a ruck with venom.

Fortunately for him, Scotland are on the attack and he gets a chance to carry into space in the 22, but the open country doesn’t suit him and he hits the ground trying to make a turn.

Pressure still on from the Scots though.

The prop forces his way over. So that’s one back for Scotland, but they still need 22 unanswered points to take a knockout berth.

56Mins

Whisper it, but it might be game on again.

With replacements coming on from both sides, Japan haven’t been able to keep that momentum surging and Scotland are barrelling back into the contest.

Japan 28 Scotland 21 

58Mins

A reminder, just in case, that winning alone is not enough for Scotland. They must score a fourth try and win by more than seven points to get the result they need.

If Japan get even a second bonus point in defeat, then they will top the pool ahead of Ireland.

60Mins

Japan have a bit of rhythm back, but it’s far from the open flowing style of the first half. The Blossoms have ground their way through 21 phases of stodgy attack and it’s ended by a big turnover by Jamie Ritchie.

65Mins

Japan get turned over again in the Scot’s 22, but at least they’re playing in the right areas.

Russell lofts a big skip pass wide left and Horne makes a good cut at advancing upfield with a chip chase, but that little man-shaped bundle of electricity Matsushima gets to the bounce first. 

67Mins

Big penalty win on the ground earns a clap from Jamie Joseph and a scuffle breaks out between some stressed-out forwards.

Japan, I think, are going to do enough to qualify here. They might even hang on for the win.

70Mins

That was very, very close to being the nail in Scotland’s coffin. A big looped pass across their 22 was very nearly picked off by Fukuoka. He had to leap into the air to reach it and ended up knocking on.

Scotland play on and attack from deep, making yards up the left. 

They reach halfway, but the superb loosehead Nakajima forces a turnover.

74Mins

Change in strategy from Scotland with Russell running everything rather than putting boot to ball.

Scotland need three more scores and they’ve only got seven minutes to get them.

77Mins

Scotland’s race is basically run now. There is no time to get two scores let alone three, so they are pushing for a draw late on.

Matsushima covers off a chip behind the try-line to keep Japan seven ahead.

78Mins

Kenki Fukuoka is named man of the match. He’s been superb, but so have the majority of his team-mates.

The crowd roars now as Japan defend a late scrum.

Flag 80Mins

FULL-TIME: Japan 28 Scotland 21

Ireland will play New Zealand in the quarter-final, Japan will renew their rivalry with South Africa.

That’s all from me. For a game that wasn’t supposed to go ahead, that was a real treat.

It may not have been the outcome many Irish fans fearing New Zealand hoped for, but for the sport, that was utterly refreshing and it will be intriguing to see how the clash of styles pans out when the Brave Blossoms meet South Africa next Sunday.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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