EDINBURGH (Reuters) – Captain Stuart Hogg became Scotland’s record test try scorer as he led his side to a nervous 29-20 victory over brave Japan in their autumn series clash at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Fullback Hogg moved past Tony Stanger and Ian Smith at the top of the all-time list as he bagged his 25th try, while Scotland also scored through wings Duhan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham, and replacement hooker Stuart McInally.
Japan typically tried to run the ball at every opportunity and made numerous visits to Scotland’s 22, though the home side slowed the ball down each time to halt their momentum. They scored a try through loose forward Tevita Tatafu to go with five penalties for Rikiya Matsuda.
Scotland will be unhappy with the performance but made it three wins from their four autumn series matches after victories over Tongo and Australia, to go with a defeat to world champions South Africa, while for Japan it was just their sixth test since they hosted the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
“For me there is no better feeling than playing for Scotland, I am still living the dream and loving it. To be part of this group is very special and we will never take it for granted,” record-breaker Hogg told Amazon Prime.
“We have yet to get the full 80 minutes performance, but we will learn from this and move on. We’ve got some big tests coming up in the Six Nations.”
After Van der Merwe had burrowed over from a pick-and-go early on, Japan seized the momentum and were the better side for the next 20 minutes.
The home side finally managed to build some phases and when they did, Hogg was able to glide through a gap and dot down for his record score as the hosts led 19-6 at halftime.
Prop Jamie Bhatti paid the price for a team warning for Scotland for slowing the ball down in their own 22 as Japan added two more penalties at the start of the second period, but the momentum changed again.
Scotland’s forward power was too much for the visitors and when they set up an attacking line-out five metres from the Japanese line, they had little trouble in mauling over through McInally, who had only been on the pitch a matter of seconds.
But the visitors hit back with their only score as Tatafu collected the ball from an attacking line-out and powered over. When Matsuda added another penalty, the gap was just six points.
Japan kept the tempo high in the final 10 minutes as they pushed for a shock win, but Scotland made sure of their victory when they earned a penalty that was converted by Finn Russell.
“From the first minute the battle went both ways, both teams played good rugby and it was a really enjoyable match. I am really proud of the way we played today,” Japan captain Pieter Labuschagne said.
“They (Scotland) defended really well, they did give away a few penalties, but it was attacking rugby both ways and we enjoyed the battle.”
(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Hugh Lawson)