Scotland stuttered but still had enough to round off their Autumn Nations Series with a victory over Japan at Murrayfield.
Captain Stuart Hogg set the new all-time Scottish test match try scoring record to spark the team into life during a stop-start first half.
Duhan van der Merwe had already added to his scoring tally and further scores from Darcy Graham and Stuart McInally made the victroy safe – but Gregor Townsend’s men were made to work for it by an ambitious Japan side who kept up the pressure through the 80 minutes.
After an opening three minutes where Japan held the ball but could not advance further than the home ten metre line through multiple phases, the visitors kicked back to Scotland and were punished by their own indiscipline.
Back-to-back offsides against the Brave Blossoms gave the dark blues the territory for Van der Merwe to muscle over the line after seven minutes.
Hamish Watson was then caught off his feet at the ruck and fly half Rikiya Matsuda made it 5-3 from the penalty shot at goal.
Scotland could not build their own rhythm as referee Brendan Pickerill was unhappy with their players illegally slowing down the Japanese ball, and with 25 minutes played Matsuda kicked the tourists ahead 6-5, with the Scots warned to clean up their act at the breakdown.
That looked to be the moment to spark them into life and captain Hogg burst into life with a break through the midfield.
Playing an offside advantage, Sam Johnson made ground, then George Turner fed Finn Russell, who released that man Hogg again to zoom across the try line for his 25th, record-breaking, try for Scotland.
That put the 29-year-old ahead of Ian Smith and Tony Stanger in the test try scoring charts, ending a record that had stood for nearly 89 years.
Russell’s extras put them ahead 12-6.
As the clock wound down to half time it had been a less than thrilling spectacle for the Murrayfield crowd but Scotland found another spark in attack to take a more solid lead into the dressing rooms.
Playing a set move off the back of a scrum, Russell spotted a gap to run through inside the 22 before lopping the ball wide to Darcy Graham.
The Edinburgh winger ran out of room down the right wing but managed to step inside and twist himself across the line for the team’s third try.
This time Russell found his shooting boots to kick Scotland into a 19-6 lead at the half.
The firts half penalty count came back to bite the hosts early into the second period as Jamie Bhatti was sin binned for one breakdown infringement too many, and Matsuda ticked the score to 19-9.
As Japan upped the pace to exert pressure on the short-handed Scots they drew another offside and kicked the scoreboard to 19-12.
The expiery of the Bhatti yellow card coincided with Scotland regaining control of the contest as they drove a trademark attacking maul over to score try number three – Stuart McInally the man to dot down just moments after taking the field for Turner.
Japan were not going away though and a fantastic 50/22 kick gave them line-out ball five metres out. From the throw substitute Tevita Tatafu found a gap to bundle through and score.
Matsuda miskicked that conversion but was handed an identitical kick from an offside penalty with eight minutes remaining which he nailed to put Japan to within six points.
From there Scotland had to hold onto the ball to prevent a grandstand finish from the Japanese and they managed to draw an offside from which Russell kicked the three points to seal victory.
After a gruelling autumn schedule it was a win that only showed flashes of their best play. The four game series shows three wins to a solitary defeat against the world champions South Africa but also leaves room for improvement ahead of the Six Nations.
England provide the next opponents in February where the target of retaining the Calcutta Cup will sharpen minds towards the 80 minute performance that Scotland have been craving.
Scotland Player Ratings
Stuart Hogg 8 – The national team’s spark when they need it, the skipper dragged a stop-start display into life with his devastating breaks.
Darcy Graham 8 – Busy day at the office for the Edinburgh dynamo who finished his try brilliantly in one half, and won a jackal turnover in the second.
Chris Harris 8 – Some bone-crunching hits in defence and made his mark with ball in hand as well. A key player.
Sam Johnson 8 – Makes players miss with his intelligent ball carrying and will be a difficult man to leave out in the Six Nations.
Duhan van der Merwe 7 – Made his usual physical carries and scored with a less conventional finish from close range.
Finn Russell 7 – Varied his game with a grubber kick, then incisive run which led to Graham’s try.
Ali Price 7 – Conducted the tempo well, particularly through the period Scotland were down to 14 men.
Jamie Bhatti 6 – Handed the chance to impress and handled his scrummaging duties with distinction. Took a team yellow card for a ruck infringement in the second half.
George Turner 7 – A couple of wayward throws from touch but otherwise steady and abrasive around the field.
Zander Fagerson 7 – A marathon shift through the autumn series starting every match and showed his impressive fitness levels.
Scott Cummings 7 – Brings an extra mobility to the second row which Scotland missed in his injury absence.
Grant Gilchrist 6 – Managed to exert pressure in the line-out and carried well but caught a couple of times not rolling away in the tackle.
Jamie Ritchie 7 – Another autumn ever-present who continues to underline his importance. Typically played on the edge and fell foul of the referee a couple of times.
Hamish Watson 7 – Slowly regaining his edge after a period out injured.
Josh Bayliss 7 – The pacey Bath back row didn’t look out of place on his first start. Will add good depth going forward.
Replacements 6 – Pierre Schoeman made a notable impact from the bench but the changes did coincide with some of Japan’s best periods of play.