It was a gripping affair at McDiarmid Park yesterday. A close-fought contest from first to last, there was nothing separating the teams at the final whistle. So much, though, for the footballers of St Johnstone and Ross County.
When the goalposts were moved at the Saints' home ground - a week after the narrowing of the touchlines at Murrayfield - the rugby players of Scotland and Japan came marching on to the pitch where the Bell's Scottish Football League First Division fixture had finished in a 1-1 draw just three hours previously. It was altogether different contest - a non-contest before half-time.
Scotland ran in five tries before the interval and 10 afterwards. With the last kick of the game, they hit a century of points for the first time in an international. In doing so, the 89-0 rout of the Ivory Coast by the World Cup class of '95 was removed from the record books. There were 11 different scorers in the 15-try tally. Chris Paterson claimed three of them and, with 11 conversions and one penalty, finished with a personal haul of 40 points - just four shy of the Scottish record set by Gavin Hastings against the overwhelmed Ivorians in Rustenberg nine years ago.
Japan were unrecognisable, not just in terms of personnel, from the side that were within four points of Scotland with 14 minutes of their World Cup encounter remaining in Townsville 13 months ago. Still, a win's a win. And, having won just one of their nine matches under Matt Williams' stewardship - against Samoa in Wellington in June - Scotland and their Australian coach had reason to be grateful for a rare taste of success. It was their first home win for 15 months.
Chief among Williams' concerns yesterday, apart from the need for a victory, was to see his side produce the kind of sustained level of concentration and application that has been notably absent from Scotland's play for some time. The purple patch they produced against the Wallabies the previous Saturday came only after the game had been lost by shipping 28 first-half points, but the Scots were swiftly off the mark last night.
Indeed, only 93 seconds were on the clock when Ally Hogg crossed Japan's try-line. The Edinburgh flanker was left with a clear diagonal path to the right corner after an initial charge over the half-way line by Allan Jacobsen and a darting run by Chris Cusiter. Paterson converted from tight to the touchline but the feared Scottish lapse was not long in coming.
Japan's left-wing Hayito Daimon enjoyed an unopposed run to the line when his team's first attacking foray caught the Scottish defence napping. Had Wataru Ikeda not been off target with the conversion, Scotland would have been pegged level until the end of the first quarter. They were temporarily stymied by some sloppy handling in attack, Sean Lamont spilling the ball on three occasions, before sterling approach work by Andy Henderson paved the way for the second Scotland try, Hugo Southwell taking a scoring feed from Paterson wide on the left.
Paterson added two points with his conversion, three with a penalty and then jinked past three men on the left to claim a try. The Edinburgh wing landed his conversion, leaving Japan trailing 24-5 after 26 minutes of virtual one-way traffic. Ikeda pegged back three points with a penalty but the Japanese line was breached twice more before half-time. Dan Parks sidestepped over from close-range after another charging run by Henderson and Jon Petrie raced over from 40 metres.
Paterson suffered his first miss of the night with the second conversion attempt but Scotland were 36-8 ahead and five tries to the good by half-time. The floodgates had opened and the Scots flowed through them with increasing momentum in a second half that rapidly descended into a training-ground exercise once Paterson had hacked over on the right for his second try. There were further scores for Mike Blair, Henderson, Paterson again, Graeme Morrison, Lamont, Donnie Macfadyen, Robbie Russell (two) and Southwell again. The capacity 10,278 crowd roared every try. It won't be so easy against the Wallabies at Hampden next Saturday.
Scotland: H Southwell (Edinburgh); C Paterson (Edinburgh), B Hinshelwood (Worcester), A Henderson (Glasgow), S Lamont (Glasgow); D Parks (Glasgow), C Cusiter (Borders); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), G Bulloch (Glasgow), G Kerr (Leeds), S Grimes (Newcastle), N Hines (Edinburgh), A Hogg (Edinburgh), D Macfadyen (Glasgow), J Petrie (Glasgow). Replacements: S MacLeod (Borders) for Grimes, 32-ht, 65; G Morrison (Glasgow) for Hinshelwood, 46; R Russell (London Irish) for Bulloch, h-t; M Blair (Edinburgh) for Cusiter, h-t; J White (Sale) for Hogg, 58; G Ross (Leeds) for Parks, 58; C Smith (Edinburgh) for Jacobsen, 70.
Japan: R Miki (World Fighting Bull); K Kubota (NEC Green Rockets), S Shimomura (Sanyo Wild Knights), Y Motoki (Kobe Steel), H Daimon (Kobe Steel); K Sawaki (Suntory Sungoliath), W Ikeda (Sanyo Wild Knights); Y Hisadomi (NEC Green Rockets), T Yamaoka (Suntory Sungoliath), R Yamamura (Yamaha Motors), T Kumagai (NEC Green Rockets), H Ono (Toshiba Brave Lupus), N Okubo (Southland), H Kiso (Yamaha Motors), T Miuchi (NEC Green Rockets). Replacements: F Mau (World Fighting Bull) for Ono, h-t; H Yoshida (Kubota Spears) for Miki, 46; M Mukoyama (NEC Green Rockets) for Motoki, 55; M Yamamoto (Toyota Motor Verbitz) for Hisadomi, 67; T Yamaguchi (Kubota Spears) for Okubo, 68; K Tanaka (Suntory Sungoliath) for Ikeda, 72; M Yamamoto (Sanyo Wild Knights) for Yamaoka, 77.
Referee: A Cole (Australia).