After a disastrous start to the Rugby World Cup, Scotland appear to have drastically turned their fortunes around.
Having looked unconvincing in their opening 27-3 defeat to Ireland, they have not conceded a single point since, beating Samoa 34-0 before thumping Russia 61-0 yesterday. It is the first time they have kept their opponents scoreless in back-to-back Tests since 1964.
It took a man-of-the-match display from Stuart Hogg at full-back to inspire the Scots to a bonus-point win over Samoa and settle the country’s nerves, but with just a four-day layover between games against Japan and Russia, Gregor Townsend entrusted a second-string side to deliver the goods yesterday.
Adam Hastings started at fly-half as one of 14 changes from the Samoa victory, with just wing Darcy Graham keeping his place. The No10 helped his side race into a 14-point lead with two tries and conversions in the 13th and 17th minute, the second a great solo effort in which he kicked and chased twice before touching down.
Four minutes later and scrum-half George Horne added a third on his first World Cup start by intercepting a pass following a Russian line-out before going on to complete a hat-trick of tries in the second-half as Scotland scored nine in total.
It means Sunday’s match against Japan, a game currently at risk of being moved due to Typhoon Hagibis, will now be the decisive fixture in Pool A as the hosts, Scotland and Ireland scrap over two quarter-final places.
Townsend’s side looked in serious danger of heading home early after defeat in Yokohama but consecutive bonus-point wins have left them one point behind Ireland and four behind Japan after three matches, following the hosts’ shock win over the Irish.
Assuming Ireland beat Samoa on Saturday they will finish the group stage on 15 or 16 points, depending on whether they also claim a bonus point.
Scotland, then, will need to beat Japan in order to overtake the hosts in the standings as well as match any bonus points they earn. This would see Ireland top the group and Scotland finish second, setting up a quarter-final with New Zealand.
However if Japan pull off another huge victory against a Tier One nation, they will top the group with Ireland in second and tee up a quarter-final against South Africa, who they famously beat in Brighton at the 2015 World Cup.
And in the unlikely although possible scenario that all three sides end up on 15 points, the winner will be decided by points difference, with second and third place settled on head-to-head record.
In that instance, Scotland’s demolition of Russia will come in handy. They currently have a point difference of 71, 19 better than Ireland, who would then face elimination due to their defeat to Japan.