Brave Blos­soms prom­ise tough battle on home soil

Much-im­proved Ja­pan will not be easy ride for Scots on back of his­toric World Cup

The Herald - Herald Sport - - RUGBY UNION -

COTLAND’S trip to Ja­pan may not have the glory or pres­tige of their Bri­tish and Ir­ish ri­vals who are on three-match tours to the South­ern Hemi­sphere su­per­pow­ers, but the Scot­tish play­ers are tak­ing their games just as se­ri­ously.

Those who were around nine months ago know that Ja­pan gave as good as they got in the World Cup clash un­til they ran out of steam. Now the Asians are at home in the hot, clammy con­di­tions they are used to at the Toy­ota City Sta­dium, and though there is a stead­fast party line from the hosts that re­venge plays no part in their think­ing, it’s hard to be­lieve them.

Af­ter all, that de­feat by Scot­land, their only one in the last 12 games, was ar­guably as much the re­sult of un­for­tu­nate sched­ul­ing as the qual­ity of rugby the Scots played. Four days af­ter achiev­ing their big­gest and most his­toric win over South Africa, Ja­pan could not keep go­ing for 80 min­utes and fell apart in the fi­nal quar­ter.

It was enough to make sure Ja­pan did get one du­bi­ous re­ward: a place in the record books as the only team in World Cup his­tory to win three pool games and still be elim­i­nated – Scot­land and South Africa won the same num­ber of matches but picked up bonus points to pip the Brave Blos­soms to the quar­ter fi­nals.

Re­venge? You’d bet­ter be­lieve it. The home side have changed or lost more than half the team that played in those mem­o­rable World Cup games but the tales of in­jus­tice are never go­ing to die that quickly.

“This is go­ing to be the first game for the new Ja­panese side,” was the ver­dict from Hi­toshi Ono, the vet­eran lock. “We are the chal­lengers in this game. Many peo­ple think Scot­land are go­ing to win – the same as hap­pened with the South Africa side in the last World Cup. In a good way I would like to break ev­ery­body’s hopes, just like we did to South Africa.”

It’s worth point­ing out that when Ono, now 38, came into the team 12 years ago, Ja­panese rugby was at such a low ebb that they went down to a 100-8 de­feat in McDiarmid Park in Perth. There is no chance of a re­peat. “We have to battle well, in the scrum we have to get low and work as an eight to­gether,” added Ono. “We have to work for 80 min­utes. At the li­ne­out we need to use our speed. We are not easy tar­gets so we need to use our speed.”

Which is ex­actly what Scot­land have been ex­pect­ing from Ja­pan ever since they started pre­par­ing for this trip. “The im­pres­sive thing about Ja­pan is the qual­ity they are pro­duc­ing,” was the ver­dict from Jonathan Humphreys, the for­wards coach.

“There are a few [play­ers] miss­ing but the boys com­ing in seem equally adept. They are play­ing the same game and are pro­duc­ing the same threats. We are well aware of how this game is go­ing to go and how it is go­ing to be – a very, very tight af­fair.”

To counter that, Scot­land are go­ing to have to dom­i­nate pos­ses­sion and win the set-piece battle, mak­ing the raw, in­ex­pe­ri­enced tal­ent of Stuart McI­nally at hooker cru­cial.

It is less than three years since he em­barked on his project to turn him­self into a front-row player, af­ter com­ing close to caps as a No.8, and only 16 months since his first pro­fes­sional game in his new role.

“It’s a re­ally good op­por­tu­nity,” McI­nally said. “In the Six Na­tions I was re­stricted to time off the bench which was good for me. It was very frus­trat­ing to miss the World Cup in the man­ner it hap­pened with the in­jury com­ing so late on. I am just glad I man­aged to re­cover and take a lot of con­fi­dence from be­ing in­volved.”

His prob­lem is that he is quite tall for a hooker at 6ft 3in, and up against the group that likes to scrum low­est of any in­ter­na­tional unit out there, a tricky task for some­body as new to the tech­ni­cal­i­ties as he is.

“But if Scot­land can win enough ball to bring him into the game as a dy­namic ball car­rier, they will win. It is that sim­ple. I cer­tainly like to carry,” said McI­nally. “I feel that is how I can get into the game best. It is some­thing I pos­si­bly for­got about when I first moved to hooker and would con­cen­trate on li­ne­outs and scrums and start to for­get why I ac­tu­ally moved and why there was a po­ten­tial to make it work.”

The im­pres­sive thing about Ja­pan is the qual­ity they are pro­duc­ing . . . They are play­ing the same game and are pro­duc­ing the same threats

OP­POR­TU­NITY: At 6ft 3in Stuart McI­nally is tall for a hooker but is look­ing to put his car­ry­ing abil­i­ties to the test in Ja­pan

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