KO 11.45am (7.45pm local time)
International Stadium, Yokohama City
Sunday 13th October 2019
Live on ITV1
Is this Schrodinger’s RWC fixture? Simultaneously both cancelled and going ahead. The fans at home may not truly know how the paradox works itself out until kick-off on Sunday. On the assumption everything pans out as originally planned, here’s part I of the preview for a crucial match…
There are some demons to be exorcised when Scotland face Japan in Yokohama. A positive outcome at the stadium where the Scots opened this tournament in disappointing fashion might banish some memories of the evisceration by Ireland. In the biggest game they have played for four years there’s the chance to learn the lessons of not closing out that last enormous match against Australia.
Scotland’s record in these decisive final pool round encounters at RWCs is actually pretty decent – although in true Scottish fashion accompanied by plenty of heart in mouth moments along the way!
- 2003 – beat Fiji 22-20 (finished pool runners-up, progressed to QFs)
- 2007 – beat Italy 18-16 (finished pool runners-up, progressed to QFs)
- 2011 – lost to England 12-16 (finished 3rd in pool, missed out on QFs)
- 2015 – beat Samoa 36-33 (finished pool runners-up, progressed to QFs)
Japan Scouting Report
Record in this RWC cycle
Played – 34
Won – 21
Drawn – 1
Lost – 12
Japan played no less than 13 matches against Tier 1 opposition between World Cups. That’s a massive increase on their average of 3 games versus Tier 1 in previous RWC cycles. It’s also significantly more fixtures against the top teams than any other Tier 2 side across the last 4 years, including:
- Fiji – 8 games v Tier 1
- Georgia – 6
- Samoa – 6
- USA – 4
While Japan only managed a single win (against Italy) and a draw (against France) during these 13 games they also ran Scotland and Wales close. Extra preparation against the big names of world rugby certainly seemed to pay off a couple of weeks ago when the Brave Blossoms turned over Ireland!
Kotaro Matsushima has been putting up stellar numbers for Japan throughout the tournament so far. Encouragingly for those who still feel rugby should be a game for all shapes and sizes he’s one of a few sub-90kg, sub-1.80m back 3 players who have been lighting up this RWC (others include South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe and Warrick Gelant plus Scotland’s own Darcy Graham).
The Japanese winger can be a devastating runner if provided with even a little bit of space. Scotland’s kicking game was strong against Samoa and Russia but this will be a different level of risk if they get it wrong with Matsushima lurking and keen to add to his four tries from the first three pool rounds
Key stats from previous matches in Pool A
Japan have already played Russia, Ireland and Samoa in this tournament. These were some of the takeaways from those fixtures:
- 19 kicks v Ireland. There was a different approach from Japan in their other match against Tier 1 opposition when they took on the Irish. In the games with Russia and Samoa they averaged 30 kicks and were content to make those teams play. The Ireland fixture saw the RWC hosts spend much more time controlling the ball, setting up 60% more rucks than they did versus Samoa and trying to starve the Irish of attacking opportunities. They may well look to do the same to reduce the impact Scotland’s talented backline can have on this game.
- 17 tackles missed by Japan’s midfield axis (10/12/13). This is not quite the open door that the heart of the Russian backline offered – but if Scotland are looking for encouragement and a route to crack the Japanese defence then challenging the midfield trio of Yu Tamura, Ryoto Nakamura and Timothy Lafaele and their 70% tackle completion rate will surely be high on the agenda.
- 2 setpieces lost by Japan. Across their 3 previous matches the Brave Blossoms have won 14 out of 14 on their own scrum and 34 out of 36 on their lineout (they’ve also pinched 5 opposition setpieces – 2 scrums and 3 lineouts). Everything is done simply and with the minimum of fuss. Even if Scotland can bring any pressure to bear at scrum time the Japanese will have the ball in and away through channel one to leave almost no risk of losing possession.
- 168 tackles made by 4 key players. They’ve only played 25% of the total minutes for Japanese players but hooker Shota Horie, lock James Moore and back rows Lappies Labuschagne and Kazuki Himeno have made nearly 40% of the tackles for their team. It’s been highly effective work too with a combined 95% completion rate. They are the front line that will be doing their utmost to stop Scotland’s forwards from getting on the front foot – which is key to releasing the dark blues’ backline’s potential to really tear things up.
- 1.83 passes per ruck. Japan like to move the ball and they like to find width where possible. With Gregor Townsend’s men also favouring giving it some air (2.01 passes per ruck – for context Ireland averaged 0.96 in their win over Scotland) this has the potential to be a very loose – and very exciting – encounter.
Scotland have played Japan 7 times in full capped internationals with the countries’ first meeting coming in the pool stages of the 1991 World Cup. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective (RWC matches underlined):
W W W W W W W
Most recent meeting:
Japan 16 – 21 Scotland
The 4 penalties kicked by Greig Laidlaw were pretty essential to the win! Mr Greig had to be sprung from the bench with half an hour to go to bail out a struggling Scotland side in front of his adoring fans in Tokyo.
As has been the case on a number of occasions the team seemed more relaxed and confident with le petit general on the pitch. The day after his 34th birthday will the Jed number 9 have another big evening in him to guide Scotland to the quarter-finals?
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referee 1: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referee 2: Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
This will be the third time Scotland will have been refereed by Mr O’Keeffe. Back in 2016, in just his second Test match, he took charge of Japan v Scotland at the Toyota Stadium. The Kiwi whistler hammered Japan that day with 16 penalties, 2 yellow cards and a penalty try. What Gregor Townsend would give for something similar on Sunday.
The Scottish Rugby Blog’s favourite TMO, Ben Skeen, is in the van. It’s the same role he occupied for Scotland’s last win or go home RWC match against Australia – and of course that went really well…
Scotland’s previous games with Mr O’Keeffe in charge:
- 2016 – beat Japan (A)
Penalties: 27 (For 16 – 11 Against)
Cards: Japan 2 YCs
- 2016 – beat Argentina (H)
Penalties: 20 (For 11 – 9 Against)
Not many surprises in the respective selections with Scotland reverting to broadly the lineup that dismissed Samoa and Japan opting for the players who have featured most frequently for them in this tournament – including 9 who will be starting their fourth match in succession.
Interesting notes: dropping the captain Stuart McInally in favour of the in-form Brown, and no sign of Duncan Taylor who is believed to have picked up a thumb injury in the win over Russia. Sean Maitland is also injured.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Darcy Graham, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (capt); Allan Dell, Fraser Brown, Willem Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Blade Thomson.
Replacements: Stuart McInally, Gordon Reid, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Ryan Wilson, George Horne, Peter Horne, Blair Kinghorn.
Japan: William Tupou, Kotaro Matsushima, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Kenki Fukuoka, Yu Tamura, Yutaka Nagare; Keita Inagaki, Shota Horie, Jiwon Koo, Luke Thompson, James Moore, Michael Leitch (capt), Pieter Labuschagne, Kazuki Himeno.
Replacements: Atsushi Sakate, Isileli Nakajima, Asaeli Ai Valu, Uwe Helu, Hendrik Tui, Fumiaki Tanaka, Rikiya Matsuda, Ryohei Yamanaka .
Part II of the preview, including the head to heads, will follow tomorrow.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Please stick to rugby or the game itself on this post. Go here if you want to talk about typhoons, postponements or legal challenges.