It was the Japanese national rugby team, not Typhoon Hagibis, that blew Scotland away and sent them crashing out of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, as the host nation maintained their 100% record, winning Pool A and sending them into the Quarter Finals, where their reward is a mouth watering matchup with South Africa.
It was not until a few hours before kick off that the match was confirmed to go ahead. The weather had claimed three Pool fixtures across the weekend, and it was feared that the biggest fixture of the Pool round would also be lost – and bring with it even more controversy than was already around, with the organisers roundly criticised for not having any backup or contingency plans in place, with tournament integrity needing to be protected. But, it was with some relief that the game was given the go ahead – and the game itself did not disappoint.
Scotland, needing a win to join Ireland in progressing from the Pool, started brightly and got onto the scoresheet first. Finn Russell (above) barrelling over the line very early on. The try was converted and Scotland had got off to the perfect start.
But the rest of the half was Japan pressure, and some spectacular flowing rugby. Expansive on offense, suffocating on defense, Japan showed all the form that had brought them three wins from three, including a victory over the Irish, and by half time were 21-7 up. The break brought little respite for Scotland, who then found themselves a further converted try behind early in the second half. 28-7, and Scotland now needed to win by eight clear points to overhaul the inspired hosts, as Japan had now picked up a bonus point for four tries. To their credit, the Scots did fight back, picking up two converted tries and give themselves a glimmer of hope. But the Japan defence regrouped and once again stuffed any threat offered by Scotland, to see the game out 28-21, and progress through to the Quarter Finals – and as Pool winners to boot.
It was nothing more than the hosts deserved, who have played every game with an amazing intensity and energy – and will not be taken lightly by the Springboks, who know they will need to be at their best.
Scotland will rue what could have been. A morale sapping loss first up to Ireland left them with a mountain to climb, and though they handed themselves a chance to qualify with fine performances against Samoa & Russia, even the most ardent of Scotland fan will struggle to deny that Japan didn’t deserve to progress overall.
So the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool phase is now complete, and just eight teams are left standing, with some amazingly attractive Quarter Final fixtures thrown up :
- Saturday 19 October : England v Australia (08:15 BST)
- Saturday 19 October : New Zealand v Ireland (11:15 BST)
- Sunday 20 October : Wales v France (08:15 BST)
- Sunday 20 October : Japan v South Africa (11:15 BST)
The winner of England/Australia will play the winner of New Zealand/Ireland in the Semi Finals, with Wales or France meeting Japan or South Africa in the other Final 4 matchup.
Each of the four games promises to be a high quality and close run affair – with four teams from the Northern Hemisphere and four from the Southern Hemisphere battling it out to be the 2019 Rugby World Cup Champions.