Scots put on Japan alert

Sat, 09 Nov 2013 06:28
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The last time Scotland faced Japan, at McDiarmid Park in Perth back in 2004, they racked up their first ever century of points.

The last time Scotland faced Japan, at McDiarmid Park in Perth back in 2004, they racked up their first ever century of points.

Nine years on from that record 100-8 victory, the Scots are bracing themselves for a markedly sterner test in the opening match of their November series at Edinburgh's Murrayfield on Saturday.

Japan, with the long-term goal of a home World Cup in 2019, have improved their international stock since Eddie Jones succeeded the former All Black wing John Kirwan as head coach two years ago.

But Jones, who guided his native Australia to the 2003 World Cup final and assisted Jake White in plotting South Africa's success in the 2007 tournament, suffered a mild stroke last month and has handed temporary charge of his squad to Scott Wisemantel for the duration of Japan's four-match European tour.

The Brave Blossoms will be battle-hardened from a home encounter against world champions New Zealand last Saturday, a 54-6 defeat, and will be seeking to build on the platform of the momentous victory they achieved against Wales in Tokyo in June.

The Welsh were shorn of their British and Irish Lions players that day but the 23-8 result still underlined the progress Japan have made under the stewardship of Jones.

"Japan are a formidable side now," said Scott Johnson, who will continue as Scotland's interim head coach until Vern Cotter arrives from Clermont in June.

"They have really improved their rugby. They have come on in leaps and bounds. They can now compete physically. They are well coached and they have a good knowledge of rugby now," the Australian added.

"Before, there was a naivety about their game, but that has gone now. This will be a real good test for us."

In years past, Scotland would have used a match against one of the so-called 'second tier' nations to blood some new caps, but it is a mark of respect that Johnson has selected what he considers to be his strongest available team for a contest which precedes home Tests later this month against South Africa and Australia.

With wing Tim Visser and full-back Stuart Hogg both on the injured list, perhaps the only surprise in Scotland's starting XV is the selection of Tim Swinson at lock ahead of British and Irish Lion Richie Gray, who has been detailed to bench duty.

Japan have made three changes to the team beaten by New Zealand last weekend, Kosei Ono replacing Harumichi Tatekawa at outside half and Luke Thompson and Shinya Makabe coming into the pack in the second row, in place of Hendrick Tui and Hitochi Ono.

The line-up includes scrumhalf Fumiaka Tanaka, who plays in the Super 15 for the Highlanders, and the Melbourne Rebels hooker Shota Horie.

"We've picked the best possible squad," said Wisemantel, Japan's interim head coach. "We've got a heavier lock combination this week.

"Tatekawa was injured but Kosei will do good job for us, as he's done before. It's a great opportunity for us to play a top ten country outside of Japan."