In-form Japan ready to write Scotland chapter
22 Sep 2015 - 0:00
LONDON: Japan will not feel intimidated in the slightest when they bid for another notable Rugby World Club scalp tomorrow, following up their heroics against South Africa with a trip to Gloucester to tackle an exciting but inexperienced Scotland.
Bookmakers suggest that Scotland should win the Pool B clash, but Japan have become fan favourites and chants of support for the Brave Blossoms will ring out at Kingsholm to fill the void left by tournament organisers’ bagpipes ban.
If they weren’t already, Scotland’s players will be well aware of what to expect from Japan, who made the rest of the rugby world sit up and take notice with Saturday’s triumph over the Springboks.
Scotland have made it to the semi-final stage once before, but that was more than two decades ago. In the previous tournament they failed to make it beyond the group stage and they finished last in this year’s Six Nations.
There are only a handful of players in the current Scotland squad that played in the 2011 tournament, but that could prove to be a blessing.
The team is now packed with fresh talent, including fullback Stuart Hogg, centre Mark Bennett and flyhalf Finn Russell, as well as a host of foreign imports brought in by Kiwi coach Vern Cotter.
More than a third of the squad were not born in Scotland, the most eye-catching of whom is loose forward Josh Strauss, who only qualified on Saturday under three-year residency rules.
In previous meetings between the sides, Scotland have been able to dominate physically and in 2004 they ran in 14 tries against the Japanese in a 100-8 victory.
That will not be the case tomorrow.
Japan are masters of the scything chop tackle and under the tutorship of Australian coach Eddie Jones have added an aggression factor that blunted the Springboks at the weekend.
With captain Michael Leitch marshalling the defensive effort from the back row and the reliable boot of fullback Ayumu Gorumaru kicking points, Japan will fancy their chances against a Scotland side with a habit of folding in the last quarter.
Then again, after the Brave Blossoms’ marathon effort against South Africa, a sprightly Scotland will look to capitalise on any understandable fatigue in the Japan camp.
Scotland: 1-Alasdair Dickinson, 2-Ross Ford, 3-Willem Nel, 4-Grant Gilchrist, 5-Jonny Gray, 6-Ryan Wilson, 7-John Hardie, 8-David Denton; 9-Greig Laidlaw, 10-Finn Russell, 11-Sean Lamont, 12-Matt Scott, 13-Mark Bennett, 14-Tommy Seymour, 15-Stuart Hogg
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
Japan: 1-K Inagaki, 2-Shota Horie, 3-Hiroshi Yamashita, 4-Luke Thompson, 5-Justin Ives, 6-Michael Leitch (captain), 7-Michael Broadhurst, 8-Amanaki Mafi, 9-Fumiaki Tanaka, 10- Harumichi Tatekawa, 11-Kenki Fukuoka, 12-Yu Tamura, 13-Male Sa’u, 14-Kotaro Matsushima, 15-Ayumu Goromaru
Replacements: 16-Takeshi Kizu, 17-Masataka Mikami, 18-Kensuke Hatakeyama, 19-Shinya Makabe, 20-Shoji Ito, 21-Hendrik Tui, 22-Atsushi Hiwasa, 23-Karne Hesketh REUTERS