Scots get mixed messages from beating Japan
Scotland’s interim head coach Scott Johnson was struggling to evaluate his side’s win over Japan as he looked ahead to the sterner tests that South Africa and Australia are sure to pose at Murrayfield on the next two weekends.
“I’m caught 50/50 between looking at the positive and the negative,” Johnson said in the aftermath of a 42-17 victory for Scotland that was ultimately decisive but only after Japan had twice reduced the deficit to a single point with tries by winger Kenki Fukuoka in the second quarter of the second half.
“It depends how good my night is. That’s how I look at that.”
Scotland scored six tries in all – two by winger Tommy Seymour and one each by Greig Laidlaw, Alasdair Dickinson, Duncan Weir and Sean Lamont.
Four of them came in the final 25 minutes as Johnson’s side pulled comfortably clear.
With the Springboks next up on Sunday, however, Scotland will need to tighten their defensive work, which was sloppy for prolonged periods.
Asked how he felt when Fukuoka crossed the home try-line to take the Brave Blossoms within a point of their hosts, Johnson replied: “I wasn’t feeling real good at that stage, put it that way.
“I’m trying to see the bright side of a negative. The negative is their tries. The bright side is every time they scored we walked back and scored another one straight back.
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘Why does it take the catalyst of them scoring a try for us to have a bit of urgency with the ball?’
“But that was a tough test match. I said in the week that Japan were a formidable side.”
The contest was tough enough to leave the Scots – who already had full back Stuart Hogg and wing Tim Visser on the injured list -- with collateral damage ahead of the Springbok test.
Prop Ryan Grant suffered an early knock on the head and centre Matt Scott departed with an injured wrist.
“Overall, we knew that we would make some errors,” Scotland captain Kelly Brown said.
“It was our first game of the autumn and it’s never absolutely spot-on. But I was happy with a lot of the work. I thought all of the guys worked very hard. That’s our baseline.”
No-one worked harder on either side than Tim Swinson.
Making his first international appearance at Murrayfield, after winning two caps on Scotland’s summer tour to South Africa, the Glasgow lock produced a stand-out, man of the match performance.
“Tim Swinson’s a wonderful player,” Johnson said. “He was superb. He supported our faith in him to select him first up.
“He’d had some good form for Glasgow but not some great form and it was really nice to see him out there playing great rugby. He really manned up.
“He was a deserving man of the match. It’s not always we agree with the awards but that one we’d picked in the box, so there was consensus on the shop floor.”
As for Japan, who lost 54-6 to New Zealand in Tokyo before embarking on their European tour, there was understandable frustration in the aftermath of what for 55 minutes was a nip and tuck contest.
“We’re disappointed,” Japan’s interim head coach Scott Wisemantel said. “I don’t think the final score was a true reflection of the game.
“We went out there to win. The whole idea of playing the top ten teams around the world is to see if we can match them.”
Next up for Japan is Russia at Colwyn Bay in North Wales on Tuesday.