Rugby World Cup: Scotland runs away from Japan for huge win
France, Australia post 2nd victories of tournament
Scotland made a mockery of its label as a first-half team by Eddie Jones by scoring five tries in a second-half onslaught against his Japan side to win 45-10 in the Rugby World Cup on Wednesday.
Coach Jones' comments were typical goading of a side Japan has never beaten, and fitness had a major bearing on the match.
With only six changes from the side which stunned the Springboks 34-32, and a four-day turnaround, Japan did well to cling to Scotland into the second half. But then it lost No. 8 Amanaki Mafi, who was in inspiring form and tearing up the Scottish defence, and the lack of enough rest began to tell.
Scotland centre Mark Bennett led the way with two tries, while flanker John Hardie, right winger Tommy Seymour, and flyhalf Finn Russell got the others as they recorded their biggest Cup win since beating Romania 42-0 in 2007.
We gave them the opportunities to score tries and we weren't clinical enough in their 22.- Japan coach Eddie Jones
Japan led 7-6 in the 15th minute after a masterclass rolling maul off a lineout ended in a try for Mafi.
But that was as close as the Brave Blossoms got, as the Scots carved gaps in midfield and punched holes through a Japanese defence that resembled wilting blossoms.
"We gave them the opportunities to score tries and we weren't clinical enough in their 22," Jones said. "I was impressed by Scotland, there were times when he had them but their recovery defence was impressive."
Many of the fans at Gloucester's compact Kingsholm Stadium were decked out in cherry-and-white jerseys — the local colours and Japan's — and most of the support was for the underdogs.
It was the right stadium for another upset, too, with Georgia beating Tonga 17-10 there last week.
Not this time.
Although it was laborious stuff from Scotland initially, Japan wasn't as sharp as it was against South Africa, and kept giving away penalties. Laidlaw kicked over four penalties from five attempts to put them 12-7 ahead at the interval.
"We traded blows in the first half," Scotland coach Vern Cotter said. "Hats off to Japan, I thought they were a very difficult team to play against. They're deft passers of the ball and change angles well."
Mafi went off in the 45th, and taken to hospital.
"He dislocated his hip eight months ago and made an incredible recovery. We hope it's not something similar," Jones said.
Even without him, Japan was still in it. But the goalkicking of Ayumu Goromaru, flawless against South Africa, wasn't tuned in. He struck the post with a 52nd-minute penalty, and that was the reprieve Scotland needed.
Instead of leading 17-13, the Scots soon had a 24-10 cushion, as Bennett burst through weak tackling to touch down between the posts, with extras from Laidlaw, who tallied 20 points.
After Japan attacked again, Shota Horie's pass to centre Male Sa'u was too short, and Seymour streaked away for 31-10 with 15 minutes to play.
The relief in the Scotland side at a job well done was evident as fullback Stuart Hogg pumped his clenched fist toward a section of Scottish fans as he came off near the end.
"We were under pressure and we have to say that," Cotter said. "We were happy to come out on the positive side of the scoreboard."
Bennett notched the team's bonus-point fourth try, and his second of the match, and Russell, who had an impressive match, side-stepped his way to the posts.
Japan's desperation and determination forced Scotland to make 192 tackles, almost twice as many as Japan, and that effort could yet have a bearing on its second match, in four days, against the United States in Leeds.
Australia struggles to top Fiji
Australia struggled to put away a spirited Fiji side playing its second game in five days at the Rugby World Cup, winning 28-13 mainly thanks to a quick brace of first-half tries from No. 8 David Pocock at the Millennium Stadium on Wednesday.
Pocock dived over at the base of rolling mauls to help the Australians to an 18-3 halftime lead in their first Pool A game of the tournament. And when prop Sekope Kepu barged over for a third try early in the second half, Fiji faced a huge task so soon after losing to England in the opening game on Friday.
Yet flyhalf Ben Volavola's solo try in the 60th inspired the Fijians to a strong finish, with Australia pinned back in its own half in the final minutes. The Wallabies failed, unlike England, to earn the bonus point for four tries that could yet prove significant in a tough pool also containing Wales.
Flyhalf Bernard Foley kicked 13 points for Australia, which has won the World Cup both times it has been held in Britain — in 1991 and 1999.
France overpowers Romania
A bonus-point victory was the best thing France took away from the Olympic Stadium in struggling to put away a limited Romania side 38-11 on Wednesday.
France's second win from two matches in Pool D was, like the first over Italy four days ago, workmanlike.
There was no continuity from the Italy win because there were 13 changes, which meant France was playing its first game of the tournament for a second time.
To the benefit of coach Philippe Saint-Andre, he's seen almost his entire squad in action, and has to be closer to figuring out his best side, especially for the likely pool decider against Ireland. That team may need to play in the next game against Canada in eight days.
Scrumhalf Morgan Parra was busy and brilliant off the kicking tee, inside centre Wesley Fofana scored for the first time since November, and winger Sofiane Guitoune almost bagged a hat trick of tries. The defence was strong, with only six tackles missed, and in another positive, there wasn't any tournament-ending injuries.
But against a strong set-piece side such as Romania, the set-pieces were messy.
And it wasn't until Romania was reduced to 14 men after half an hour that, against the run of play, France squirmed out of Romania's grip.