Scotland got a chance, didn’t take it at World Cup in Japan
YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — The Scots were so desperate to get their chance on the night in Yokohama, there was talk of a day in court.
When it came to the moment of truth, they couldn’t quite match it with Japan. Scotland missed out on qualifying for the knockout rounds of the Rugby World Cup for only the second time when its late rally ended in a 28-21 loss on Sunday night.
Japan progressed to the quarterfinals for the first time, topping the group with four wins in the tournament it is hosting. The first Rugby World Cup in Asia has been a special one for Japan, but has also been heartbreaking for the host nation.
The typhoon that lashed Japan on Saturday caused flooding and landslides and dozens of deaths on the main island. Two games scheduled for Saturday were canceled. Sunday’s scheduled opener was canceled six hours before kickoff, and the Japan-Scotland game — essentially a playoff for the quarterfinals — was only cleared to proceed as noon approached.
Scotland complained about the lack of contingency plans to reschedule games, because a cancellation would have given them no chance of qualifying. There were reports of possible recriminations if the game did not go ahead. There was good reason to be confident, too, given Scotland had a 7-0 record in head-to-heads and ended Japan’s run at a quarterfinal spot in 2015.
Scotland rebounded from its opening loss to Ireland with comfortable wins over Russia and Samoa and needed to beat Japan by more than seven points to advance. The 0-0 tie logged for canceled games gave them no chance. So just getting on the field was a victory of sorts.
Finn Russell scored the opening try, giving Scotland a 7-0 lead after seven minutes. But Japan responded with three tries to take a 21-7 halftime lead and flying winger Kenki Fukuoka added his second three minutes after the break to extend the margin to 21 points. The Scots rallied with two tries in six minutes, but there wasn’t another point scored in the last 25 minutes in a tense finish.
“We came here with high aspirations and getting out of the pool was stage one of that,” coach Gregor Townsend said. “That was a unique situation we were in tonight.
“It was always going to be a challenge given the way Japan were playing ... but we had the team and the ability to go on and win by the necessary amount of points. That we didn’t is a huge disappointment.”
Japan captain Michael Leitch dedicated the victory to the people suffering in the wake of the typhoon. Townsend also expressed sympathy on behalf of his team.
Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw said Japan’s improvement had been stark, but he rued missed opportunities.
“You have to give them credit for the way they have progressed and the way they have performed tonight,” he said. “But as always in defeat you have to look at yourselves. We gave away two soft tries and we left ourselves with a mount to climb.
“In a test where you need to win by eight points, giving them 28 is way too many.”
Scotland will go home with a long time to think about the lost opportunities in Yokohama before regrouping for the Six Nations. Japan, now in unfamiliar territory, is resetting its goals to become the first Asian team to reach the semifinals. That test begins next week against two-time champion South Africa.