Rugby World Cup: Host Japan pips Scotland to make quarters for first time

Japan powered through to the quarterfinals of the Rugby World Cup for the first time, sending Scotland home after a Yokohama thriller.

Host Japan has topped Group A of the 2019 Rugby World Cup with four wins as many games.   -  Getty Images

Japan left Scotland standing with an electrifying performance in Yokohama that carried it through to the Rugby World Cup 2019 quarterfinals for the first time.

Playing 21st century rugby against a side that looked bereft of invention until the jig was up, Japan roared to a 28-21 victory and set up a showdown with South Africa next Sunday in Tokyo.

South Africa, then. Even if it had not been for the Miracle of Brighton four years ago, the Springboks would have good reason to be fearful of these Brave Blossoms.

But Japan's stunning victory over the Boks in its last World Cup meeting will colour the build-up to that game, and based on this showing the Rugby Championship winner could have its hands full.

Four wins out of four is Japan's record as host, with tries from Kotaro Matsushima, Keita Inagaki, Kenki Fukuoka propelling it to a 21-7 half-time lead, and another from Fukuoka early in the second half effectively sealing the deal.

Scotland had threatened legal action if this match did not go ahead, which was a concern after the deadly Typhoon Hagibis caused havoc in Japan.

But if there was relief in the Scottish camp that it would be played, when that announcement came earlier on Sunday, it only briefly looked capable of securing the handsome win it needed to pip its opponents to a place in the last eight.

Finn Russell darted in for a seventh-minute try, finding a gap as Japan's defence showed early fragility, and Greig Laidlaw booted the extras.

From then on, though, Scotland was largely camped in its own half, Japan sensational in attack. Matsushima sprinted in from the left wing after an offload from fellow wing Fukuoka for Japan's first try - his fifth of this World Cup - in the 18th minute.

William Tupou burst through a line of Scottish defence before feeding Inagaki to surge over from close range for the second try eight minutes later, and Japan was rewarded with a third on the stroke of half-time, Fukuoka collecting a perfect grubber from Timothy Lafaele.

Yu Tamura added conversions to each try. Had he not missed a pair of penalties, Scotland would have been out of the contest.

When Fukuoka wrested the ball from enemy hands and scorched through from midfield for Japan's fourth try in the 43rd minute, the home side had a bonus point in the bag and Scotland needed the mother of all fightbacks.

WP Nel burrowed over for a swift Scottish response, and Zander Fagerson powered through for a third Scottish try.

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It is so often the hope that kills Scottish sport fans. At 28-21 in arrears, here was hope. But as the minutes ticked by, with Japan holding firm and the Scots increasingly desperate, needing a slew of scores, so the points dried up.

Scotland faces a long trip home. Japan's journey at its home World Cup continues.

- Wing wonders look match for anyone -

Matsushima and Fukuoka were irrepressible for Japan, with their pace, opportunism and inventive raiding on the wings at times embarrassing Scotland. South Africa will need to be on its toes next weekend, and will surely handle the Japan dangermen better than the Scots managed.

- Tier two? Not for long -

How Japan builds on this World Cup will be intriguing. Until the 2015 tournament it had just one victory from seven World Cup appearances, but now it is making winning a habit. It looks a side worthy of being reclassified as a tier-one outfit, and days such as this will only strengthen the rugby culture in the nation.

Key Opta facts

- Japan has made it out of the Rugby World Cup pool stages for the first time in its history; it is just the fourth non-Tier 1 side to manage the feat and the first since Fiji in 2007 (also Samoa and Canada).
- Scotland has failed to make it out of the pool stages of the Rugby World Cup for just the second time, after also doing so in 2011.
- Japan has won six consecutive Rugby World Cup matches, only Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England has enjoyed longer winning runs in the tournament.
- Samoa (1995, 1991) is the only other non-Tier 1 side to beat two Tier 1 sides in the same Rugby World Cup, as Japan has in 2019.
- Japan made 550 metres in this match, just the second side to make 500+ metres in 3+ games at the 2019 Rugby World Cup (also South Africa).
- Kotaro Matsushima has scored five tries at this year’s Rugby World Cup, the most by a Japan player in an edition of the tournament; overall he has six tries at the World Cup, also a record for the Brave Blossoms. He is the top try scorer in the 2019 Rugby World Cup after the pool stages.
- This match saw Kenki Fukuoka become the first player to score in three consecutive Rugby World Cup matches for Japan.
- Luke Thompson made a record 13th Rugby World Cup appearance for Japan (Hirotoki Onozawa 12) in this match; also becoming the third oldest player from any nation to feature in a World Cup match.

- What's next? -

Japan will face South Africa in Tokyo next Sunday, meaning Ireland must face the All Blacks next Saturday. Scotland returns home to lick its wounds.