Scotland win opening Test over gutsy Japan

Captain Greig Laidlaw has kicked 16 points as Scotland overcame Japan to clinch a 26-13 victory in the opening Test in Toyota city.

Laidlaw slotted over four penalties and added the extras for a first-half penalty try and a second-half WP Nel score on Saturday night as Scotland edged out their hosts in the first of two meetings.

The decisive period was on either side of halftime when Japan was down to 13 men with two players in the sin bin, allowing the Dark Blues to take a firm grip.

The match had been billed as a chance for Japan to gain revenge over Scotland for their 45-10 World Cup defeat in 2015, but the forward power of the visitors was too much for the gallant, ball-handling style of the Brave Blossoms.

Scotland had a couple of early confidence-boosters, with 2019 World Cup hosts Japan being forced to kick twice in the first two minutes.

That was quickly followed by the home side getting on the wrong side of referee Ben O’Keefe in an early piece of Scots possession and handing Laidlaw a successful shot at the posts.

It was a false dawn for the visitors, though, as the home side quickly proved their attacking flair, with a quick tap penalty in their own half releasing wing Yasutaka Sasakura down the right with support inside him.

The move broke down a metre from the Scots line but quick ball allowed fly-half Yu Tamura to tip possession to captain Shota Horie to score the first try of the game.

Matt Scott showed some of the Scottish threat in response, but was hunted down on the 22, although the visitors did win another penalty as Japan tried to run out of defence and Laidlaw brought his side to within a point.

Laidlaw then put Scotland ahead with a 19th-minute penalty, but the lead did not last long, with Tamura responding with a long-range effort from the halfway line.

Japan led heading into the final minutes of the half but Scotland turned up the heat in the closing stages.

A series of maul penalties saw Japan flanker Hendrik Tui sin-binned, and Scotland responded with even more forward drives.

They did eventually let the ball out to the backs, and Stuart Hogg’s outside break stretched the Japan defence.

Rikiya Matsuda prevented Tommy Seymour going over when he knocked down what would have been a scoring pass to the wing, but the intervention earned the replacement Japan fullback a yellow card and O’Keefe also awarded a penalty try.

Japan had a chance to cut the deficit before the interval but Tamura missed from long range and with only 13 men on the park at the start of the second half, they were always likely to be in trouble.

Once back to 15 men, Japan did cut the deficit with Tamura’s second penalty, but by then Scotland were dominating.

A great break from Hogg came close to earning another try but Japan’s defence held firm and Scotland had to settle for a Laidlaw penalty.

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