Rugby World Cup 2019: After group stages of blips and enigmas, Scotland and Japan brace for nailbiting finale

Alan Dymock
The Independent

Typhoon Hagibis still has its havoc to wreak on Japan and it’s World Cup fixtures list, but Scotland have kept themselves in the race going into the final match of Pool A after hammering Russia 61-0 in Shizuoka.

Having racked up nine tries in their win against a broken-looking Bears side, Scotland now head into the showdown with Japan – wherever and whenever that will be – knowing that they must win and take four more tournament points from the fixture than their opponents to make the quarter-finals.

In the perfect world that means winning and totally shutting down one of the most exciting sides in this competition. Scotland cannot let Japan get two bonus points.

Scotland were slow to get their own wagon rolling against Russia, with a few dropped balls in the opening quarter of an hour. But when they did cut through it was first-phase, set-piece play that saw Adam Hasting dummy and slice through to dot down. It was foot on the gas from there.

The Glasgow fly-half was at the double minutes later. Sliding right, in the middle of the park, he dinked the ball through with the outside of his foot, chased, hacked it on again, and as Vasily Artemyev slipped as he chased across his own in-goal, the ten touched it down.

And that was the end of the game as a reasonable contest. George Horne’s intercept try mere metres from the opposition line was a sure sign that the Russians were totally outmatched. The Bears go home with their heads held high having shown exemplary effort against Japan and Ireland. But they were completely physically overpowered.

Every time the Scots sent a raking kick into the 22, you could sense the Russians’ power bar leaching further into the red.

Scotland were able to make changes too – not exactly laying up, but taking off Fraser Brown after 30 minutes for Magnus Bradbury.

The bonus-point score came a deep sigh into the second half, with a slaloming run from the effervescent wing Darcy Graham ending with the simplest of finishes for George Horne.

John Barclay celebrates scoring for Scotland (EPA)
John Barclay celebrates scoring for Scotland (EPA)

The numbers added up. The fifth try was George Turner’s fifth in nine caps while Tommy Seymour got the sixth to take his international haul to 20, leapfrogging Stuart Hogg to sit in on the all-time try scorers list. Horne scampered in from distance for his hat-trick before the hour mark and had a fourth chopped off after a worldie of a move that started with Adam Hastings popping the ball from the deck to a charging WP Nel.

Captain for the day John Barclay nabbed a try under the posts, while squad captain Stuart McInally finished off a sweeping score in the corner.

With the gong already sounded, a galloping Tommy Seymour set Hastings free for what would have been his hat-trick score, but referee Wayne Barnes – a replacement for Mathieu Raynal, who had to pull out because of illness – chalked it off for a forward pass. The fly-half will be happy enough with his 26-point haul regardless. And only Chris Paterson has scored more conversions in a Scottish Test, with 11.

Scotland’s Adam Hastings reacts after scoring a try (AP)
Scotland’s Adam Hastings reacts after scoring a try (AP)

Hastings finished up as player of the match.

There will be a much sterner Test against Japan. Defeating the hosts and not allowing them to get a bonus point will see Scotland progress. However this has been a tournament of blips and enigmas, much to the joy of neutrals around the world.

Can Japan repeat the heroics of their win against Ireland? With updates on that contest to come from World Rugby, Pool A is balanced on a knife edge.

There won’t be many fingernails left when we finally wrap up the group stages.

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