Japan confirms their top billing
WORLD CUP REPORT: Japan finished top of Pool A with a sensational 28-21 win over Scotland in a thrilling encounter in Yokohama on Sunday.
Hosts Japan will now face South Africa in a quarterfinal next Sunday.
Not even Scotland’s sensational second-half comeback could prevent the Japanese from making history – their first appearance in the play-offs.
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Rampaging wings Kotaro Matsushima and Kenki Fukuoka did the damage for Japan, who survived a late fightback in Yokohama to advance as Pool A winners along with Ireland.
Fukuoka, scorer of Japan’s try in their 19-12 upset over Ireland, grabbed two more in Yokohama – with Matsushima notching his fifth of the tournament for the rampant Japanese.
After a war of words between the rival coaches in the build-up, the teams observed a moment’s silence for the victims of the violent typhoon that swept through Japan on Saturday, killing at least 26 and forcing organisers to scrap three pool games.
The needle between the sides quickly resurfaced in Sunday’s typhoon-threatened Pool A decider, however, as both teams put in some monstrous early tackles.
“For my team, the whole World Cup, we’ve prepared really, really well. They’ve put their bodies on the line every weekend,” said Japan coach Jamie Joseph, who has compared his players Ferraris.
“But [in this match] they went another level I felt. They obviously wanted that game as much as the Scottish team did. They gave everything they possibly could.
“Everyone that entered the game, from our most experienced to our least experienced, gave 150 percent and that’s what it takes to win big Test matches.”
Scotland needed to win while preventing Japan from securing a defensive bonus point – and they got off to a flying start.
Early pressure told as flyhalf Finn Russell broke through to give them the lead after just seven minutes.
But the Japanese hit back quickly with Matsushima latching onto a superb, one-handed offload from Fukuoka to score his fifth try of the tournament.
Even better was to come from the hosts with a dazzling move straight out of a basketball playbook, quick hands between Shota Horie and William Tupou releasing loosehead prop Keita Inagaki to crash over.
On the stroke of half-time, the jet-heeled Fukuoka plucked a high-bouncing Timothy Lafaele grubber kick out of the air to leave Scotland with a mountain to climb.
Fukuoka then produced a moment of solo brilliance moments into the second half, stripping the ball from Chris Harris before accelerating clear.
Scotland, who had bounced back from a 27-3 drubbing by Ireland to smash Samoa 34-0 and Russia 61-0, looked out of it.
When Willem Nel and Zander Fagerson bulldozed over in the space of five minutes, suddenly the Japanese were creaking.
But they stood firm in the face of a late barrage to avenge a 45-10 defeat by Scotland that cost them a place in the knockout stages of the 2015 World Cup.
That team, led by Eddie Jones, won three matches, including a breathless 34-32 victory over South Africa in their opening game.
Japan’s current vintage thrashed Russia 30-10 and Samoa 38-19 either side of their massive win over Ireland and coach Jamie Joseph will relish the chance to have another crack at the Springboks.
Man of the match: Jonny Gray produced a high workrate, which included 20 tackles. Prop Willem Nel was another very busy man outside the set pieces, with his tackle count also close to 20. Flyhalf Finn Russell may not have been flawless, but he started the comeback with some great play in the second half. Zander Fagerson made a massive impact off the bench in the second half. Scotland’s best player, by a proverbial mile, was flank Jamie Ritchie. He produced some very crucial turnovers that kept his team in the game and his tackle count went well into 20. Fullback William Tupou and centre Timothy Lafaele were constant threats with the ball in hand. Wing Kotaro Matsushima had a great work ethic off the ball. Flank Pieter Labuschagne produced an energetic performance, while hooker Shota Horie also had enormous workrate and some sublime offloads. Left wing Kenki Fukuoka was simply electric and good value for his two tries. Isileli Nakajima also made an impact as a second-half replacement. Japan’s most valuable player was captain Michael Leitch – with some powerful carries and just as effective on defence. He had a massive influence on Japan’s sensational performance.
Moments of the match: You can look at Scotland’s sensational second-half comeback. For us it is the Kenki Fukuoka blitz – two crucial tries just before and just after half-time (40th and 43rd minutes), which took the score from 14-7 to 28-7, leaving the Scots with an enormous mountain to climb.
Villain: It was brutal at times, but nothing really nasty.
Tries: Matsushima, Inagaki, Fukuoka 2
Cons: Tamura 4
Tries: Russell, Nel, Fagerson
Cons: Laidlaw 2, Russell
Japan: 15 William Tupou, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch (captain), 5 James Moore, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Jiwon Koo, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Isileli Nakajima, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Darcy Graham 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Allan Dell.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 George Horne, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Blair Kinghorn.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)