No side have lit up this Rugby World Cup more than Japan and here was another electrifying result for the sport as whole. For the first time in their history the Brave Blossoms have advanced to the quarter-finals of the tournament and will now meet South Africa four years on from their famous win over the Springboks in Brighton.
This was also the day when the patronising tier two label still used by some to describe Japan’s status in the game officially ceased to exist. As was the case against Ireland, the Brave Blossoms were irresistible at times and were more than good value for their four-try success against a Scotland team whose tournament is now over.
It was less a case of Scotland playing or defending poorly and more another object lesson in Japanese excellence. The winger Kenki Fukuoka, scorer of the try that skewered the Irish, added two more big-occasion tries to his collection and he and his teammates led 28-7 at one stage before Scotland mounted a valiant late fightback.
It was an emotional occasion in any number of respects, with the host nation still picking up the pieces following the weekend’s typhoon, which has left both death and destruction in its wake. Rugby, at such times, is a minor detail but this result offered at least some solace.
Any team in the world would have loved to play the way Japan did in the first half. Quick, smart, precise and innovative, they were a credit to their Kiwi coaches Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown and rapidly forced Scotland into damage limitation mode.
Despite an encouraging early score by Finn Russell, who had almost set up Darcy Graham for a try a few moments previously, the hosts were a red and white blur of constant motion and their three first-half tries were all out of the top drawer.
As if Fukuoka’s offload for the first try by the increasingly prolific Kotaro Matsushima was not special enough, Japan were soon barrelling through the middle and Luke Thompson put his loosehead prop Keita Inagaki over by the posts. They would have been further ahead had Yu Tamura not missed a couple of penalty attempts but Scotland were not spared for long.
With half-time approaching Japan poured forward down the left once more and the excellent Timothy Lafaele put in a neat grubber behind the Scottish defensive line. The ball bounced a little higher than Fukuoaka might have liked but the buzzing winger still gathered it one-handed and surged past Stuart Hogg to score his side’s third try.
Scotland could hardly complain about the 21-7 half-time margin, with Japan having enjoyed three-quarters of territory and possession and carried for 339 metres compared to 54. If they were relieved to see Jonny Gray avoid a card of any colour after a clash of heads with Shota Horie, they had increasingly little answer as Japan simply raised the tempo by another notch.
Within three minutes of the restart the Scottish centre Chris Harris was collared in his own half, had the ball ripped from his horrified grasp and Fukuoka tore unstoppably away for the try bonus point that effectively sealed Scotland’s fate.
It left them requiring another Twickenham-style second-half resurrection to save them and, for a second or two, they hinted at another miracle. First WP Nel crashed unstoppably over and then Russell, having taken a quick throw himself, sparked a glorious counterattack which ended with the replacement Zander Fagerson scoring his side’s third. Ultimately, though, it was not enough. This was Japan’s night and how richly they deserved it.