In the end, it was a spectacle. A bonus point victory for Scotland over Japan, the vanquishers of South Africa with a try to spare. Clearly the effect of their World Cup training camp at St Andrews was enough time to gel new players and unite the squad, prepare properly, mentally and physically. Greig Laidlaw’s four first half penalties, out of a possible five, ensured that Japan trailed at half time, and were not able, as their coach Eddie Jones had assured everybody, to prove their superior fitness and overturn the deficit in the second half. In fact, his firm belief in his players’ superior fitness was almost puzzling as Hardie, Seymour, Russell and Bennett, twice, crossed the line in the second half, as perhaps, the effort Japan’s match against South Africa caught up with them.
This victory under pressure against, a team that is, according to the world rankings, very similar in ability, and in fact is ranked higher due to their South African heroics, seems to finally prove that Scotland have what they fundamentally lacked in the Six Nations: the ability to see out games and perform under pressure. In the six nations, three of the five games were agonisingly close; within a score. Italy quite frankly, is a team that Scotland should be comfortably beating; they should never be happy with the wooden spoon. The young team that Vern Cotter is building showed flair, purpose, and moments of brilliance. Ability wasn’t questionable, the questions became evident in the fact that Scotland lost to France and Italy by the same point margin, and the fact that the scores were similar.
It surely cannot be doubted now that Scotland has the players. The quadruplet of 2013 British and Irish Lions, Ritchie Gray, Stuart Hogg, Ryan Grant and Sean Maitland have proven quality and are still in the squad and two of them aren’t even making the first XV. The valuable additions of the South African WP Nel and the New Zealander John Hardie were canny if ruthless summer additions who have added a well-roundedness and proven quality to the squad, without even considering the value of an all Edinburgh front row. Clearly the quality is there in the team, just some belief is needed.
What was so heartening then, was the fact that Scotland were able to so expertly and in such a cool manner dispatch Japan in the manner of the best teams in the world, a proven top tier team, among whose number Scotland should aim to belong. A bonus point victory in the face of outstanding pressure: the mind games, the fact that Japan had just beaten the team that was at the time third in the world and a favourite for the title, the fact that Japan were still in the running at half-time and had scored the game’s only try. Finally it appears, Scotland’s young team has developed those mental attributes to contribute the exciting play ad team spirit that were so keenly on display when they ran a quality if second-string New Zealand side last November.
But I suppose it is easy to get carried away by one good result. Perhaps the real test of Scotland will be their group games against the United States and Samoa, which, unfortunately are after this article will be written but before it will be published. Alas, you will know, though I currently do not, how Scotland’s fortunes have played out and whether Scotland and Vern Cotter will be vindicated. Samoa will be the real trial, an established test team. But regardless after that, who knows, Scotland really look like a force to be taken seriously at the next six nations. Let’s hope they don’t disappoint again.