Preview: Japan v Scotland

Date published: June 16 2016

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Scotland will face Japan, who are without inspirational captain Michael Leitch and World Cup hero Ayumu Goromaru, in the first of two Tests in Tokyo on Saturday.

Vern Cotter's men head into this opening game knowing that the last time these two sides met Scotland got the win by 45-10 in the World Cup.

A victory for Scotland this time around won't come easy as Japan is known to never back down even if the result seems out of their reach.

Japan, as a nation, have been gaining valuable experience, both on and off the field, with the bulk of their squad playing for newly formed Super Rugby side, the Sunwolves.

Despite being on the receiving end of some big scores, the game time that the Sunwolves are getting, along with adjusting to the hectic travelling schedule, will be invaluable to Japanese rugby and will certainly help boost their confidence heading into this Test series.

The Brave Blossoms interim and Sunwolves head coach Mark Hammett has been in the favourable position to have worked with the bulk of his players. They have also been coming up against the best of the Southern Hemisphere's sides, which will allow Hammett to bud new talent and also fine tune some areas of concern.

Scotland will in all likelihood want to exert their physicality over Japan, especially at the scrum and breakdown, with the likes of Willem Nel, Alasdair Dickinson and Ross Ford possessing the ability to lay a solid platform for the backs.

On the other side, Japan will have to minimise mistakes and unneccesary handling errors which could allow the visitors to run in a few easy tries.

However, the home side's spirited and brave fighting back ability is not to be under-rated and although they may not have the history books favouring them, backing themselves in Tokyo will be crucial if they are to claim an upset.

The boot of Greig Laidlaw, given that Japan are without their star kicker, Goromaru, will in all likelihood be a notable difference in these Tests. Laidlaw, who will captain the side as well, is known for his accurate place kicking and will make Japan pay for any mistakes.

The dangerous and evasive Scotland backs will also cause Japan problems, if the forwards get the upper hand over their opponents, which is why the home side will have to be strong in defence. Any error in this department could see them gather behind their try line regularly.

Players to watch: 

For Japan: The return to the team of number eight Amanaki Mafi is a massive boost for Japan. His power with ball in hand is a major plus and they will need the former Bath man in his World Cup form this weekend.

For Scotland: The late squad call-up for lock Richie Gray will certainly boost their second-row. The 26-year-old will be an integral part of the line-out set piece should he feature in the matchday squad. His height and physical presence will bolster Scotland's chances in the tight exchanges.

Head-to-head: The battle at hooker is going to be one to watch as Shota Horie, refreshed after not featuring last week, takes on Stuart McInally. This is only McInally's second start in his eight Tests so he will be looking to make it count in the absence of Ross Ford. 

Prediction: Despite Japan's high work-rate this won't be enough to cause an upset. Scotland to beat Japan by more than 15 points.

Previous results:

2015: Scotland won 45-10 in Gloucester
2013: Scotland won 42-17 in Edinburgh
2010: Scotland XV won 24-5 in Edinburgh (uncapped match)
2004: Scotland won 100-8 in Perth
2003: Scotland won 11-32 in Townsville
1991: Scotland won 47-9 in Edinburgh
1989: Japan won 28-24 in Tokyo (uncapped match)
1986: Scotland XV won 33-18 in Edinburgh (uncapped match)
1977: Scotland XV won 9-74 in Tokyo (uncapped match)
1976: Scotland XV won 34-9 in Edinburgh (uncapped match)

The teams:

Japan: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Mifiposeti Paea, 13 Tim Bennetts, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 Yasutaka Sasakura, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Shokei Kin, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Naohiro Kotaki, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 19 Kotaro Yatabe, 20 Hiroki Yamamoto, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Kosei Ono, 23 Rikiya Matsuda

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Damien Hoyland, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 John Hardie, 6 John Barclay, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Alasdair Dickinson
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Moray Low, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 David Denton, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Sean Maitland

Date: Saturday, June 18
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Tokyo 
Kick-off: 19:20 local (10:20 GMT)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Marius Mitrea (Italy), Brendan Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)

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