Need to Know: Scotland v Japan match preview

KO 2.30 at Kingsholm Stadium, Wednesday 23rd September
Live on ITV

Rugby World Cup debuts galore as Scotland’s tournament finally gets underway. After the group opened with a Double B (that’s a Bucking Belter) in Brighton will we have a Grand Guignol in Gloucester?


15 Stuart Hogg
14 Tommy Seymour
13 Mark Bennett
12 Matt Scott
11 Sean Lamont
10 Finn Russell
9 Greig Laidlaw (c)
1 Alasdair Dickinson
2 Ross Ford
3 WP Nel
4 Jonny Gray
5 Grant Gilchrist
6 Ryan Wilson
7 John Hardie
8 David Denton
15 Ayumu Goromaru
14 Kotaro Matsushima
13 Male Sau
12 Yu Tamura
11 Kenki Fukuoka
10 Harumichi Tatekawa
9 Fumiaki Tanaka
1 Keita Inagaki
2 Shota Horie
3 Hiroshi Yamashita
4 Luke Thompson
5 Justin Ives
6 Michael Leitch (c)
7 Michael Broadhurst
8 Amanaki Mafi

16 Fraser Brown
17 Ryan Grant
18 Jon Welsh
19 Richie Gray
20 Josh Strauss
21 Henry Pyrgos
22 Peter Horne
23 Sean Maitland

16 Takeshi Kizu
17 Masataka Mikami
18 Kensuke Hatakeyama
19 Shinya Makabe
20 Shoji Ito
21 Hendrik Tui
22 Atsushi Hiwasa
23 Karne Hesketh

Team Talk
Only 4 players remain from Scotland’s last RWC match, a 16-12 defeat to England in Auckland, with Ross Ford the only player in the same position for both games. Japan bring 6 players into their starting line-up as they try to back up their stunning victory over former champions, South Africa. The Japanese bench features a 6 forwards / 2 backs split which suggests they expect Scotland to try and overpower them up front and reinforcements will be required.

Ten numbers you need to know
Total caps for the Scotland starting XV – less than half of the Springboks line-up that went down to the Japanese in the group opener.

The number of uncapped players at this World Cup (out of 620 participants). Among their number is one Joshua Strauss, aka The Beard to be Feared, who is almost certain to make his debut off the bench at Kingsholm.

Age of Jonny Gray – the youngest player in the squad. Jonny is the 3rd youngest squad member in the pro era. Unlike the two younger players – John Barclay (2007) and Chris Paterson (1999) – Jonny will be first choice in his position.

Age of Sean Lamont – the oldest member of the squad (one of only four over-30s in the selection). Sean will be the 3rd oldest player to play for Scotland in a pro era RWC behind Alan Tait (1999) and Nathan Hines (2011).

The largest number of World Cup new boys in any Scotland squad for any World Cup – with 19 of them set to make their RWC debut on Wednesday. The squad for the inaugural tournament in New Zealand only comprised 22 players. (I bet they didn’t even have a nutrition consultant or an assistant deputy bag wrangler or anything. How the hell did they cope?!?)

Number of times this century Scotland had named a squad not featuring Mike Blair and Nathan Hines until this RWC. Although Wagga has managed to avoid missing out completely by making it into the coaching team where he will be mostly teaching the young lads how to wind up the opposition…

Players in the Scotland squad who have recorded RWC tries – Ross Ford scored from the bench against Portugal in 2007.

Number of minutes since Scotland last scored a RWC try, a streak they will be keen to bring to an end early in the opening game against Japan.

RWC matches won by Japan (in 25 attempts) after they doubled their tally against South Africa on Saturday. Their only other win in the previous seven tournaments was against Zimbabwe in 1991.

Players who have previously captained Scotland in a RWC match. Greig Laidlaw will become the 12th skipper once the team’s tournament gets underway.

Previous results
The sides have met 4 times with Scotland victorious on each occasion.
There have been 2 previous encounters at World Cups:

  • 1991 Scotland 47-9 Japan (Murrayfield)
  • 2003 Scotland 32-11 Japan (Townsville)

The most recent meeting was at Murrayfield in 2013 with Scotland ultimately running out comfortable winners after being pushed hard by the Brave Blossoms:
Scotland 42
Tries – Seymour (31, 54), Laidlaw (46), Dickinson (63), Weir (68), Lamont (77)
Cons – Laidlaw (47, 64), Weir (78)
Pens – Laidlaw (6, 21)

Japan 17
Tries – Fukuoka (43, 51)
Cons – Goromaru (44, 52)
Pens – Goromaru (35)

Essential match-ups

Fumiaki Tanaka is one of Japan’s most experienced players and one of the few playing in Super Rugby. On Saturday, along with stand-off Kosei Ono, their roles were to play in an extremely controlled way, acting as distributors with very little running threat and minimal kicking away of possession. The Japanese 9 and 10 were assisted by weak performances from their opposite numbers, Ruaan Pienaar and Pat Lambie. Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell must look to dominate their immediate opponents – Laidlaw by disrupting Tanaka around the set piece and rucks and Russell by bringing the Scotland line up quickly to cut down new stand-off, Harumichi Tatekawa’s options.

Ball carriers

Japan shared the workload to a degree with 4 men with carries in double figures. Only one of these was in the backs however and they appear limited in their ability to breach an aggressive, physical defence. South Africa’s passive line (primarily due to Jean de Villiers lack of match sharpness and Jesse Kriel’s inexperience) allowed the Japanese time and space and they took advantage in fine style. Scotland will look to Denton, Gray, Strauss and Scott to get them over the gain line and on the front foot. They will look to isolate Japanese defenders one on one where there were numerous missed tackles – in fact only one of the Japanese starters did not miss a tackle against South Africa. It was their scramble defence allied to the Springboks lack of vision and poor execution meant many of these opportunities came to nothing.

Set piece

Japan’s scrum and lineout functioned clinically as the Cherry Blossoms kept things as simple as possible in order to ensure they retained possession. Equally though they were unable to make any impact on the South African set piece and Scotland should be targeting first phase ball as a chance to work around the Japanese back row and take advantage of the strike runners in the backs. The Japanese props in particular appear to be traditional set piece specialists and if Scotland successfully control the tempo and move the point of attack these players will become increasingly ineffectual.

Coaching / tactics

Eddie Jones sent his men out to face South Africa with a game plan that was elegant in its simplicity, highlighted by their low error count arising from focussing on high percentage passes (not one offload was made), their discipline ensuring a single digit penalty count and only losing one of their own set pieces. They were also able to keep the pressure off their defence for extended periods by starving the opposition of possession (particularly in the second half of the South Africa match).

By contrast his opposite number relied on a game based on power – one which had previously been brutally effective. When this failed to get the desired results there was simply no plan B for the Springboks. There may be a slight worry that Vern Cotter’s selections for the RWC squad suggest he is looking to a similarly physical style of play (primarily to counter those same Springboks and also Samoa). However any Scotland team with Finn Russell leading the line will have no lack of alternative plans buzzing about that maverick brain – the key will be selecting the right option at the right time to put maximum pressure on the Japanese.

This will be only the third time that John Lacey has refereed Scotland with the previous matches resulting in one win and one draw for the men in blue. However, the Munster man (who incidentally was named as the fastest ref in world rugby in 2014) will be very familiar to Glasgow and Edinburgh players from the Pro 12. The Warriors in particular have found themselves on the former winger’s bad side – in the 5 games he has reffed in the past 2 seasons, Galsgow are 26 behind in the aggregate penalty count. Scotland simply cannot afford to give that much leeway to Japan or they will find themselves facing the threat of elimination before the first week of the tournament has even been completed. For more stats on RWC refs (including Speedy Gonzalez, Mr. Lacey) visit Great Call Rugby who have some excellent analysis on the officials at the current tournament.

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