Preview: Japan v Scotland

Date published: September 22 2015

Few expected Japan to face Scotland with a win under their belt but the Brave Blossoms flipped Pool B on its head last weekend.

Pulling off the greatest Rugby World Cup upset of all time has meant that Japan have won millions of new fans, had their triumph covered extensively back home on television and in the press, while the official World Cup store in Oxford Street ran out of Japanese replica jerseys over the weekend.

“Apparently rugby’s on the news now, which is unusual in Japan. It’s usually sumo, baseball, so the big sumo guys have had to move away for rugby," mastermind Eddie Jones said on Tuesday.

"It’s fantastic for the sport, fantastic for rugby. That can only be great for rugby going forward. The sport always talks about going global but an Asian country beating a top-tier country makes it a real global sport.”

Most impressive though has been Japan's attitude. Jones and captain Michael Leitch were rightly proud of that outstanding achievement, but insisted that the Brave Blossoms work in this tournament is far from over.

Win on Wednesday and Japan will be within touching distance of the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. For a side that last week had only one World Cup win ever to their name, and 24 years ago against Zimbabwe, that's quite extraordinary.

Overcoming the emotional and physical toll of that victory and in only four days will have been a massive challenge for Jones and his coaching staff, and the full extent of how much Saturday has taken out of the squad will only really be known once Wednesday's game with Scotland is underway. 

But this fixture now holds far more intrigue than anyone would have predicted before the tournament started.

Scotland have watched the first weekend impariently waiting to get going based on that should come out firing. 

“It has confirmed a lot what we already knew about them," Cotter said.

"They believe in what they do and, as I say, they will be 100 per cent committed and we think that they have shown perhaps 80 per cent of the things they like doing and probably another 20 per cent saved for us.

“Everybody was impressed by their commitment and they played very well. They were obviously looking for that result and they got it because they worked hard. They accurately identified a number of things and we know that they have prepared for our game as well. We know that we will be getting something well thought out so we will have to be very careful to stay concentrated from start to finish.”

Japan handled South Africa physically, suggesting that they can do the same against Scotland, except the fatigue and six changes made to the side have to be factored in.

Scotland's back row along with Ross Ford, Matt Scott and Jonny Gray can all make metres and while Japan's defence was generally impressive, missed tackles on Lood de Jager and Adriaan Strauss in Brighton cost them tries. Scotland may not be so sloppy.

Vern Cotter has tightened Scotland up in all areas and they are immensely better off for it, even if those improvements were contradicted by a winless Six Nations.

But, if Japan can reproduce the high-quality sets of phases they produced against South Africa, then any defence will struggle.

Ones to Watch

For Japan: One of the key changes for Japan was the addition of Amanaki Mafi off the bench against the Springboks, when the number eight not only weighed in with 12 carries but also created the winning try with a hand-off and final pass. Now he starts, and could be a lively runner for Scotland to keep a close eye on.

For Scotland: If Wednesday's game is as tight as expected then captain Greig Laidlaw will have to be perfect off the kicking tee for Scotland. The 29-year-old will also be a Rugby World Cup debutant, despite having played over 40 times for his country. Laidlaw will be in familiar territory however considering that he plays his club rugby with Gloucester. That could provide an advantage when lining up tough kicks.

Head to head: Both full-backs who offer different strengths. Ayumu Goromaru was absolutely essential for Japan with his goalkicking against the Springboks, keeping his side in the game throughout. Stuart Hogg on the other hand is arguably Scotland's best attacker in open play, not forgetting his own work with the boot either through long-range penalties or helping Scotland to control territory. Goromaru proved he is no slouch when he finished Japan's spectaular second try, making our team of the week. Hogg will definitely look to challenge him under the high ball.

Previous results:

2013: Scotland won 42-17 at Murrayfield

2004: Scotland won 100-8 in Perth

2003: Scotland won 32-11 in Townsville

1991: Scotland won 47-9 at Murrayfield

Prediction: It seems foolish to write Japan off after their heroics in Brighton, but predicting how they will have recovered in time is tricky. Scotland are fresh, prepared and now respect Japan even more. This is will be mighty close. Japan by 3

The teams:

Japan: 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Male Sau, 12 Yu Tamura, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Michael Broadhurst, 6 Michael Leitch (c), 5 Justin Ives, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Kazu, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Shoji Ito, 21 Hendrik Tui, 22 Atsushi Hiwasa, 23 Karne Hesketh

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 David Denton, 7 John Hardie, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Richie Gray, 20 Josh Strauss, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Sean Maitland

Date: Wednesday, September 23
Venue: Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester
Kick-off: 14:30 local (13:30 GMT)
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)