Need to Know: Japan v Scotland match preview (Summer Test 1)


KO 11.20am (7.20pm local time)
Saturday 18th June
Toyota Stadium, Toyota City
Live on BBC2 Scotland

269 days after these two sides met in a Rugby World Cup pool encounter it’s time for the Brave Blossoms and the Thistles to get reacquainted. This will be the third time that a Scotland side has played in Japan but it will be the first time that full caps have been awarded for the match and the lineup picked by coach Vern Cotter demonstrates how seriously he is taking the challenge of one of the up-and-coming teams in world rugby.


15 Kotaro Matsushima
14 Paea Mifi Poseti
13 Tim Bennetts
12 H Tatekawa (c)
11 Yasutaka Sasakura
10 Yuu Tamura
9 Kaito Shigeno
15 Stuart Hogg
14 Tommy Seymour
13 Duncan Taylor
12 Matt Scott
11 Damien Hoyland
10 Ruaridh Jackson
9 Greig Laidlaw (c)
1 Keita Inagaki
2 Shota Horie
3 Kensuke Hatakeyama
4 Hitoshi Ono
5 Naohiro Kotaki
6 Hendrik Tui
7 Shokei Kin
8 Amanaki Mafi
1 Alasdair Dickinson
2 Stuart McInally
3 WP Nel
4 Jonny Gray
5 Richie Gray
6 John Barclay
7 John Hardie
8 Ryan Wilson
16 Takeshi Kizu
17 Masataka Mikami
18 S Kakinaga
19 Kotaro Yatabe
20 Hiroki Yamamoto
21 Keisuke Uchida
22 Kosei Ono
23 Rikiya Matsuda
16 Fraser Brown
17 Rory Sutherland
18 Moray Low
19 Tim Swinson
20 David Denton
21 Henry Pyrgos
22 Peter Horne
23 Sean Maitland


Team Talk
The Japanese side is much changed from that game in Gloucester – just 6 of the starting XV returning for this game with key men Ayumu Goromaru, Fumiaki Tanaka and Michael Leitch all injured. Scotland rely on a slightly more consistent selection and 9 of their starters from the RWC match-up will run out for this game. Of the 6 who miss out David Denton is on the bench; Finn Russell, Ross Ford and Grant Gilchrist are injured / recovering from injury; Mark Bennett is away with GB 7s; and Sean Lamont has travelled with the squad but is not selected for this game.

Previous results

The sides have met five times in capped internationals with Scotland victorious on each occasion.

  • 1991 Scotland 47-9 Japan (Murrayfield – RWC)
  • 2003 Scotland 32-11 Japan (Townsville – RWC)
  • 2004 Scotland 100-8 Japan (McDiarmid Park)
  • 2013 Scotland 42-17 Japan (Murrayfield)

The most recent meeting at RWC 2015 saw Scotland ultimately running out comfortable winners after being pushed hard by the Brave Blossoms:

Scotland 45
Tries – Hardie (47), Bennett (55, 68), Seymour (63), Russell (73)
Cons – Laidlaw (56, 64, 69, 74)
Pens – Laidlaw (2, 11, 17, 19)

Japan 10
Tries – Mafi (14)
Cons – Goromaru (15)
Pens – Goromaru (45)



Key stats

Possession / territory:
Japan 60% / 64% Scotland 40% / 36%

The Japanese side had far more of the ball and a large majority of the game was played in the Scotland half. It didn’t impinge on the Scottish attacking game though – in fact they managed to score 5 tries in the second half with only 30% territory. The ruck numbers demonstrate that the Brave Blossoms attack was dominated by short-range passing and working through multiple phases trying to tie in the Scots. They may have only lost 2 out of their 125 rucks (almost twice as many as Scotland set up) but it didn’t stress the Scottish defence sufficiently to create the scores they needed. It will be interesting to see if Japan play with more width this time round and if Scotland will be as content to step back and control the play with disciplined defence.

Carries by back row:
Japan 56 Scotland 20

The Japanese back row units were immense during all their RWC fixtures and provided the primary go forward up front in Gloucester. The outstanding Michaels – Leitch and Broadhurst – consistently got them over the gain line and Mafi was the one man in the Japan side who regularly punched holes in the Scottish defensive line. Unfortunately for the Cherry and Whites the rest of their side couldn’t quite follow up in the same style and take advantage of the ground gained. With Leitch injured and Broadhurst retired Japan will need to look elsewhere for the kind of workrate that might put their visitors under pressure. Mafi’s dynamic carrying will be even more crucial to their chances of breaking down the Scottish defence.

Tackles made / missed
Japan 111/16 (87%) Scotland 197/12 (94%)

The corollary of Japan’s domination of territory and possession was the very high number of tackles that the Scottish players were required to make. Lead by Jonny Gray (20 tackles made, none missed) and Al Dickinson (18 made, none missed) the dark blue line was oppressive in the way they were able to (for the most part) contain the Japanese surges. The Brave Blossoms were far less efficient in this respect, with Tatekawa at 10 and both wingers in particular guilty of multiple missed tackles. With Tatekawa occupying the 12 channel for this game expect to see both Scott and Taylor trying to isolate the Japanese captain in the defensive line. Temperatures as high as 31 degrees are forecast for Saturday and the Scottish coaches will be keen to see their charges’ reduce their defensive workrate by holding onto the ball more effectively.

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Marius Mitrea (Italy), Brendan Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)

Ben O’Keeffe will take charge of only his second Test match having made his debut just a week ago in Samoa’s draw with Georgia in Apia. A qualified doctor (an eye specialist no less) Mr. O’Keeffe has put his medical career on hold to take up refereeing full time. Having officiated his first game in 2012 and his first Super Rugby fixture in 2015 it’s been a rapid rise for the Kiwi whistler. Mr./Dr. O’Keeffe did referee the Sunwolves first ever fixture in Tokyo in February so the Japanese side may have a minor advantage in terms of experience of his style of game management.

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