We fully expected a comfortable win over Japan despite the fact that the top Asian side had improved considerably from their last appearance here in a capped international.
Scotland’s game plan seemed to be to try and grind down the opposition, which worked to a certain extent, but there wasn’t a great deal of ball going to the backs.
That was the case until the second half when the shackles were off and we saw the rare and very pleasing sight of Scotland’s backs chucking the ball about – not only the backs, but the forwards too.
The try by Alasdair Dickinson was brilliant. Every pass stuck and it was a joy to watch. How many times in the past have we seen dropped passes and basic errors bring an end to a promising move?
On Saturday, we saw phases of play last well into double figures. When Greig Laidlaw darted in for his fourth Scottish try it came at the end of 22 phases. That was encouraging. Nick De Luca had one of his best games in a Scottish jersey, Sean Maitland looked comfortable at full back and Greig Laidlaw is a very safe pair of hands at scrum half.
Tommy Seymour had a dream first start with a couple of tries which will do him the world of good moving forward.
Tim Swinson was another of the newcomers who took his opportunity with both hands and deservedly won the man of the match accolade. Ross Ford put in an impressive performance in defence and as a ball carrier, and Kelly Brown, as always, led by example.
Posting 42 points and crossing for six tries was enough to satisfy the Scots among the 32,000 in the stadium, but there are many points to be addressed before the Springboks come calling on Sunday. Giving away two Japanese tries in quick succession was described by Greig Laidlaw as “annoying” and he’s right.
The ease at which Japan cut through our defences was a big concern and they will have to tighten up considerably to stop the more potent attacking forces of South Africa then Australia.
I’m penning this on Monday so have no knowledge of the team Scott Johnson will pick, but if he sticks to his word he may make some changes, not just because of injuries. Ryan Grant, Matt Scott and Ally Kellock will be doubtful starters as they were the three most affected by injuries during the Japan game. So Richie Gray is likely to partner Tim Swinson in the boiler house, and the back row could well be freshened up with John Barclay maybe getting a start. Duncan Weir will relish a start at 10, but with Euan Murray not available to play on a Sunday we’re looking at Alasdair Dickinson and Geoff Cross starting.
I cannot see Scotland win, but I think they’ll run the ‘Boks close. They will be heartened by their performance against South Africa in their own backyard in June, but mistakes they got away with on Saturday will be punished this weekend.