TOKYO, 14 Oct - Scotland return home to think again after another tournament where the squad failed to meet their own stated expectations. There were plenty of players prepared to voice their belief beforehand that Scotland were "on the verge of something special", that they were "not heading to Japan to make up the numbers" and "we're in it to win it".
Sadly, those words were not matched by deeds, as all the months of planning and preparation produced a disappointing opening display against Ireland, and a week of introspection as a result.
A three-day turnaround, effectively, was always going to be an issue before facing a rested Japan, even without the impact of Typhoon Hagibis and the uncertainty as to whether the game would go ahead.
Ultimately, a sensational, emotion-fuelled display from the hosts was too much for Scotland to cope with when it came to the fiendishly difficult business of winning test matches under the most intense pressure. Having gone two games without conceding a point, they could not stop in-form Japan scoring four converted tries in the decisive 25-minute spell of the game.
It was an incredible night in Yokohama as Japan and Scotland produced a game for the ages.— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 14, 2019
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Gregor Townsend took responsibility for not getting the team prepared correctly - mentally, as much as physically, it seems - for the poor start against Ireland, despite what he described as "some of the best training sessions we have ever had".
There was tacit acknowledgement he got selection wrong by ripping up the back row for the win over Samoa - which paid dividends - and he deftly handled the short turnaround between Russia and Japan, in managing the load on players.
The distraction and impact of Typhoon Hagibis in the final week, the squad only had one training session between their third and fourth matches and could not leave their hotel the day before the Japan game, means Townsend will probably survive Scotland’s second only pool stage exit, after 2011, given the exceptional circumstances.
He insisted after the Japan game that "there is a lot more in this team" and there is certainly a strong core of young thrusters coming through. But he is yet to convince sceptics he can rid Scotland of the inconsistency that produces exhilarating highs and shocking lows.
Player of the tournament
Losing key flanker Hamish Watson to injury in the first half of the opener against Ireland appeared a particularly savage blow. But Jamie Ritchie, pictured above, who joined the squad late after surgery to repair a broken cheekbone, stepped into the breach superbly. The 23-year-old only played two games, against Samoa and Japan, but his belligerence, breakdown savvy and 24 tackles against the hosts marked him out as a key component in the Scotland back row for years to come.
Memorable moment off the pitch
There were three: Gordon Reid’s media conference at Hamamatsu’s Museum of Musical Instruments - a tour de force that coach Townsend stayed behind to witness after his own duties were done. Then the Scotland media manager's phone going off in the middle of a press conference after making a point of telling everyone to put theirs on silent and, finally, a choir of Japanese schoolchildren in Nagasaki singing Flower of Scotland – an early indicator of the warmth of the welcome and hospitality across a country that fully embraced its role as hosts.
Memorable moment on the pitch
Finn Russell’s perfectly flighted cross-kick into the arms of Sean Maitland for Scotland's opening try against Samoa was a moment of artistry to end 30 minutes of frustration (plus 80 against Ireland) and kick-start Scotland’s campaign. The atmosphere before, during and after the tumultuous pool match against Japan in Yokohama was also something to savour - extraordinary sporting theatre.
A changing of the guard; Greig Laidlaw may have played his final test, John Barclay's international days could be numbered and several others probably will not be around by the next World Cup. The young guns – George Horne, Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Scott Cummings, Darcy Graham, Adam Hastings - all took their chance to shine.
Quotes of the tournament
"My first thought was that it’s called Typhoon Haggis. Obviously it’s not." - Gregor Townsend after first learning of the approaching Super Typhoon, five days before it hit Japan.
"It’s not really agreeing with me, but I am trying sushi. I saw these things … they can only be described as like meatballs … but one was purple and one was green. I didn’t have a clue what it was. I tried it, and I’m not going to lie, it was actually quite good. It wasn’t the best, but it was all right.” - Prop Gordon Reid samples Japanese food.
How did they do?
Lost 27-3 to Ireland in Yokohama
Beat Samoa 34-0 in Kobe
Beat Russia 61-0 in Shizuoka
Lost 28-21 to Japan in Yokohama
Scotland by numbers
153 – the number of metres made by wing Darcy Graham against Samoa, in just 46 minutes on the pitch. The four players with a higher figure in the pool stage all played 80 minutes.
190 – the number of minutes Scotland went without conceding a point, including keeping two opponents (Samoa and Russia) scoreless in successive tests for the first time since 1964.
26 – the number of points Adam Hastings scored, including two tries, on his first World Cup start against Russia – the highest individual tally of any player in the pool stage
60 – the minute in Scotland’s win over Samoa, just after their third try, that the squad’s Operations Manager David Edge discovered his wife Kelly had given birth to a baby boy.