South Africa will meet a very impressive home side Japan in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals next weekend.
The hosts beat Scotland 28-21 in Yokohama on Saturday in a wonderful exhibition of rugby by both sides, after leading 21-7 at the break.
Japan stretched the lead with their fourth try coming just two minutes into the second half to take the lead to 28-7 before Scotland came back with two tries to press for a win and a possible quarterfinal berth.
It was not to be, however, and the result and four tries for a bonus point by Japan gave them first place in Pool A with an unbeaten four matches. They will face South Africa, second-placed in Pool B, in next weekend’s quarterfinal.
♦ Japan’s victory was built on their near-faultless handling, especially in the first half, and a rush defence that had the Scottish backline on the back foot and without a plan when they did get their lesser share of possession
Japan, struggling in the first quarter, then shifted a gear after South African born Kotaro Matsushima scored their first try after 18 minutes. They won their share of possession and scored three scintillating tries with good handling and options the cornerstone of their game.
There was very little kicking for territory or up-and-unders to challenge the opposing blacks under the high ball. Possession went down the backline, there were switches to the inside and skip-passes to the wings and the man-over was created more times than was comfortable for the Scots.
Japan got three scrum penalties before halftime, but these were extremely technical and rather contentious. There is no doubt that Rassie Erasmus will use the scrums and driving mauls as the Boks main attacking approach. It is, after all the game they have played to now and are comfortable with, with their strong wings then utilised as the scorers.
♦ This was also Scotland’s approach after they trailed 7-28 early in the second half. They showed that the Japanese are not comfortable against direct confrontation and hard running and Scotland scored two tries to take the score to 21-28.
A proviso for the Boks to win will be that they curb the running of the Japanese backs and prevent the man-over that is being created by the good passing and switching.
Japan (21) 28: Tries: Kotaro Matsushima, Keita Inagaki, Kenki Fukuoka (2). Conversions: Yu Tamura (4)
Scotland (7) 21: Tries: Finn Russell, WP Nel, Zander Fagerson