Preview: Scotland v Japan
Scotland will use the Test against Japan at Murrayfield on Saturday to get their structures in order ahead of next weekend’s clash with the Springboks.
Scotland will use the Test against Japan at Murrayfield on Saturday to shake off possible rust and get their structures in order ahead of next weekend’s clash with the Springboks.
The Scots haven’t played as a unit since June, when they scored a last-gasp 30-29 win over Italy in a four-nation tournament in Pretoria.
The Brave Blossoms were trounced by the All Blacks last weekend in a match that was always going to lopsided on the scoreboard.
The benefits Japan gained from the encounter against the world champions were invaluable game time as a team and experiencing the intensity and pace of rugby at its highest level.
The 6-54 scoreline aside, it was a valuable exercise in scrutinising team selection and identifying areas of concern to work on heading into Saturday’s game in Edinburgh.
Scotland, in turn, may struggle to find their rhythm early on and can expect an attempted ambush in the first quarter. The hosts will have the Springboks, who they lost to 17-30 in Nelspruit in June, at the back of their mind, but captain Kelly Brown insists they aren’t looking past an ever-improving Japanese side, who claimed a historic win over Wales in Tokyo in June.
"I think the people who think it's going to be easy have obviously not watched the Japanese games from June. They beat Wales and they're a side that, in the long-term, is really looking forward to hosting the World Cup in 2019," Brown, who returns from an ankle injury, told BBC Scotland.
"So we're expecting a very tough challenge. They've got a good set-piece, they like to throw the ball about and they've got some very quick players, so we really need to make sure that we're on our guard in all areas.
"We need to make sure that we start well and that's what we're looking to do, so we're focusing on ourselves and we're making sure that we get all of our systems in place and we're looking to continue with the improvements that we started in the Six Nations and then right through the tour and if we can keep on improving, then I think we'll be in a good place.
“The only target I've got right now is Saturday and making sure that we all play well as individuals and, if we can do that as a team, it'll be a successful day," he added.
Wing Toshiaki Hiroae leads Japan back to Murrayfield for the first time in nine years. The Asian champions’ last visit to the famous venue saw them suffer an 8-100 humiliation.
This time around, in only the fourth ever Test between the countries, Hiroae is confident that they will make more history.
"It's going to be fun playing in such a great stadium as Murrayfield. I'm looking forward to showing everyone the 'Japan Way' of rugby and for us to make history and beat a Top 10 nation away from home for the first time," said Hirose.
Players to watch:
For Scotland: Returning captain Kelly Brown will be the centre of attention as far as the home crowd is concerned. Greig Laidlaw, the man he displaces as skipper, Nick de Luca, back on the Test stage for the first time in 12 months, New Zealand-born Sean Maitland, one of just four Scotland players included in the British and Irish Lions squad for the tour to Australia in June/July, and flyhalf Ruaridh Jackson are the key backs Japan will have to keep a close eye on. The key men in the pack are British and Irish Lions tourist Ryan Grant and the tough-as-nails Alasdair Strokosch.
For Japan: New Zealand duo Luke Thompson and Michael Broadhurst, probably the most universally recognisable names on the Japan teamsheet, will beef up the Brave Blossom pack. Kosei Ono comes into the pivotal flyhalf role in place of the injured Harumichi Tatekawa and can expect to be targeted by the hosts, while his halfback partner Fumiaki Tanaka and hooker Shota Horie both have Super Rugby experience, which will stand the visitors in good stead.
Head to head: The most compelling positional battle will be that between Greig Laidlaw and Fumiaki Tanaka. Laidlaw will pull the strings for the Scots but will also have to mark Tanaka closely, the 28-year-old having grown in stature this year following his first Super Rugby season at the Highlanders. At 1.73m and 83kg, Japan skipper Toshiaki Hirose and Sean Lamont (1.88m and 95kg) will be locked in a David and Goliath battle, while hookers Ross Ford and Shota Horie, who played Super Rugby for the Melbourne Rebels this season, will meet in an important set-piece tussle.
2004: Scotland won 100-8, Perth, Scotland
2003: Scotland won 31-11, Townsville
1991: Scotland won 47-9, Edinburgh
Prediction: Saturday’s Test between the ninth-ranked hosts and 15th-ranked visitors will be a good indication of how far Japan have come this year as well as their true standing in world rugby six years out from hosting the World Cup. With no rain expected, it should be an entertaining game. The outcome, for the most part, rests on Scotland. Specifically, their approach to the contest. If they implement a structured strategy, similar to the one they will employ against the Springboks next Sunday - and the Wallabies six days later - they should come away with a comfortable win. I expect Scott Johnson to go that route and as a result, Scotland will make it four-from-four against Japan by at least 14 points.
Scotland: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Nick de Luca, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 David Denton, 7 Kelly Brown (captain), 6 Alasdair Strokosch, 5 Alastair Kellock, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Al Dickinson, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Richie Gray, 20 John Barclay, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Duncan Taylor.
Japan: 15 Ayumu Goromar, 14 Toshiaki Hirose (captain), 13 Male Sau, 12 Craig Wing, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Kosei Ono, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani, 7 Michael Broadhurst, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Shinya Makabe, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Masataka Mikami
Replacements: 16 Yusuke Aoki, 17 Yusuke Nagae, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Hitoshi Ono, 20 Takashi Kikutani, 21 Atsushi Hiwasa, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Yoshikazu Fujita
Date: Saturday, November 9
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 14.30 (14.30 GMT)
Expected weather: Mostly cloudy in the morning, then overcast but no chance of rain. High of 8°C and low of 2°C. Winds from the SW at 10 to 15km/h.
Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant referees: Leighton Hodges (Wales), Greg Garner (England)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
By Quintin van Jaarsveld