Scotland made it three bonus point wins from three in the WXV 2 tournament on Friday and now they must wait to see how Italy do on Saturday before the champions are decided.
The 38-7 victory over Japan in Cape Town means that Scotland are on 15 points with a points difference of +55 at the top of the standings while Italy are second on 10 points (+31).
In their last game (4pm UK time, live here), Italy need a bonus point triumph over the USA by 25 points or more to leapfrog Scotland and win the title.
“This squad is full of great people,” captain Rachel Malcolm said after leading her side to a sixth win in a row, the first time the national team has done that since 2001.
“We have a team full of inspirational women, we have a backroom team full of great people and we have worked so hard to turn this team around [Scotland lost 12 Tests in a row before this run].
“A lot of people didn’t believe in us, but I hope they are watching us now.
“I’m incredibly proud of what we have achieved over these last three weeks, but it’s been a 12 month process really.
“We took a very tough look at ourselves after the Rugby World Cup [late last year] and as a squad and a management team we’ve worked incredibly hard together.
“We’re starting to see the fruits of that, but we still need to keep pushing on. In terms of this tournament I couldn’t be prouder.”
“We’ve progressed, but we have more progress to go,” head coach Bryan Easson added.
“We’ve got a group here that should be incredibly proud of what they’ve done, but it’s about looking forward now.
“It’s typical of Rachel and the group that focus shifted to what’s next as soon as that final whistle went. We have a brilliant group of people, there were some excellent performances all the way through the three games out here in Cape Town, but there were also things that we’ve looked at where can really move forward.
In the game in Ca[e Town on Friday, Japan started strongly and their captain Iroha Nagata, the back-row, went through past some poor tackling to open the scoring in the seventh minute. The try was converted by stand-off Ayasa Otsuka and it was 7-0.
Eight minutes before half-time Scotland had their best chance to date when centre Emma Orr burst through. She looked like she might score herself, but instead she passed and the opportunity was lost.
With the clock heading into – and then in – the red at the end of the half a series of dominant scrums earned Scotland a seven-point penalty try and Japan loosehead prop Sachiko Kato was yellow carded too.
Aided by the extra player at the start of the second half, Orr ran a great line and scored a try in the 43rd minute. Stand-off Helen Nelson, later named the player of the match, converted and it was 14-7.
A few minutes later Scotland centre Lisa Thomson intercepted in her own half and her team attacked, but Japan’s scrambling defence did well.
Japan held out until they returned to 15 players and, around that time, the put some flowing rugby together themselves.
Scotland’s scrum was dominant though and in the 55th minute a good move put replacement Coreen Grant in at the corner. It was unconverted.
The bonus point fourth try for the Scots came in the 61st minute when hooker Lana Skeldon went over from a lineout drive. Nelson converted and it was 26-7.
With 14 minutes to go Scotland scored their fifth try when Japan replacement Minori Yamamoto’s chip kick was swallowed up by substitute Sarah Bonar and she galloped in from 40 metres. Replacement Meryl Smith converted and it was 33-7.
Japan were down, but certainly not out and they kept attacking into the last 10 minutes, replacement Hinata Komaki particularly impressive.
Scotland had the final word though with a try through an unconverted try by Orr.
In the other WXV 2 match on Friday, South Africa defeated Samoa 33-7 meaning that the latter finish bottom of the standings.
Scotland versus Japan: Chloe Rollie; Rhona Lloyd, Emma Orr, Lisa Thomson, Francesca McGhie; Helen Nelson, Mairi McDonald; Leah Bartlett, Lana Skeldon, Christine Belisle, Emma Wassell, Louise McMillan, Rachel Malcolm (C), Rachel McLachlan, Evie Gallagher. Subs: Elis Martin, Anne Young, Lisa Cockburn, Sarah Bonar, Jade Konkel, Caity Mattinson, Meryl Smith, Coreen Grant.
Scotland scorers versus Japan: Tries: Penalty try (seven points), Orr 2, Grant, Skeldon, Bonar. Cons: Nelson 2, Smith.
Scotland-Japan highlights are here
Keep an eye out on GH Media’s channels for Scotland women’s coverage through to the end of WXV 2 in October…
Thanks to Scottish Rugby for the image from the Japan match