KOBE (Reuters) - Scotland’s final Pool A clash with Japan is looming as a quarter-final eliminator but for scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw the improvements shown by lower-tier sides at the Rugby World Cup means it would be a mistake to look beyond their next opponents Russia.
After losing their opener to Ireland, the Scots got their campaign back on track on Monday with a deserved win over Samoa, a 34-0 victory that earned them what could prove to be a crucial bonus point in the chase for a place in the knockout rounds.
While top-tier teams may once have looked on the likes of Russia, Uruguay, Canada and the United States as cannon fodder, they do so now at their peril.
Not once but twice have Japan proved that anything is possible in rugby. South Africa, in 2015, and Ireland, defeated on Saturday, have learned that lesson the hard way.
So while the Russians have lost both their opening games - 30-10 to Japan and 34-9 to Samoa — Laidlaw says Scotland will treat them with the greatest respect.
“Each team is getting better and better. If you’re not on your game you’re going to be put under pressure,” Laidlaw told a news conference on Wednesday.
“Their set-piece has been excellent, their scrummaging is strong, they’ve really come to enjoy themselves and play rugby and that has shone through in their performances.”
There was much to like about Scotland’s win in Kobe against a team that have proved tough customers in recent years.
The attacking performance aside, Scotland’s much-criticized defence stood strong against the hulking Samoan ball carriers and held the Pacific islanders scoreless for the first time in 30 games at the World Cup.
With Ireland claiming a bonus point in their defeat to Japan, Scotland knew even a win over Samoa might not be enough when the quarter-final places are being decided. Getting that bonus point was crucial.
“We knew the circumstances. If we never performed we’d be packing our bags and going home,” said Laidlaw, still sporting a black eye from the game.
Patience had been the key to getting those vital four tries, he added.
“We never tried to chase the game too early, which was the message. But it’s one thing talking about it and another thing executing.
“We need to use that model going forward for the rest of the tournament. Russia have been impressive so far so we need to get that game right.”
Scotland play Russia on Oct. 9 in Shizuoka before facing the hosts four days later in Yokohama.
Laidlaw says the squad must take it one game at a time: “We have a job to do against Russia, we can’t look past that.
Editing by Tony Lawrence