British and Irish Lions v Japan Match Preview

KO 3.00pm at BT Murrayfield
Saturday 26th June 2021

Live on Channel 4

With English players among the last to arrive in camp (and some still on club duty) the Lions’ starting XV is an Ireland / Scotland / Wales select. That ought to hold little fear for the Japanese who won their most recent encounters against both the Irish and the Scots and went down to an 80th minute drop goal the last time they travelled to play the Welsh.

Tale of the tape

76   Test tries   45
   Average weight   93kg
385   Test caps   177
Average age   29.6

909kg   Pack weight   889kg
   Test tries   35
500   Test caps  195
30.9   Average age   30.4

516   Test caps   60
   Test tries   7
29.6   Average age   27.4


British & Irish Lions

15. Liam Williams
14. Josh Adams
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Duhan van der Merwe
10. Dan Biggar
9. Conor Murray

1. Rory Sutherland
2. Ken Owens
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Iain Henderson
5. Alun-Wyn Jones (c)
6. Tadhg Beirne
7. Justin Tipuric
8. Jack Conan

16. Jamie George
17. Wyn Jones
18. Kyle Sinckler
19. Courtney Lawes
20. Taulupe Faletau
21. Ali Price
22. Owen Farrell
23. Anthony Watson


15. Ryohei Yamanaka
14. Kotaro Matsushima
13. Timothy Lafaele
12. Ryoto Nakamura
11. Siosaia Fifita
10. Yu Tamura
9. Kaito Shigeno

1. Keita Inagaki
2. Atsushi Sakate
3. Jiwon Koo
4. Wimpie van der Walt
5. James Moore
6. Michael Leitch (c)
7. Lappies Labuschagne
8. Amanaki Mafi

16. Kosuke Horikoshi
17. Craig Millar
18. Asaeli Ai Valu
19. Jack Cornelsen
20. Kazuki Himeno
21. Tevita Tatafu
22. Naoto Saito
23. Rikiya Matsuda

Scot Watch

Rory Sutherland will be the third player to start a game at loosehead prop for the Lions since rugby turned professional, following in the footsteps of Ryan Grant (twice in 2013) and Tom Smith (12 times in 1997 and 2001).

Three Scots have started on the wing for the Lions in the pro era prior to Duhan van der Merwe taking his bow at Murrayfield (Tommy Seymour 3 times in 2017; Sean Maitland twice in 2013; Alan Tait 3 times in 1997). Due to Zander Fagerson’s withdrawal, Duhan is the youngest player in the Lions’ 23.

If the powers that be ultimately decide that the Japan game will be a capped international then Ali Price will join Chris Cusiter (Argentina 2005) in winning a Test cap for the Lions. However, no Scottish 9 has played in a Test series for the Lions since Roy Laidlaw in 1983. That’s despite 8 of the last 10 tours having featured a Scottish scrum half.

Remarkably, Hamish Watson had been scheduled to become the first Scottish player to wear the number 7 shirt for the Lions in the pro era. His late withdrawal means the wait to see a Scot at openside continues – a drought that stretches back 80 matches to Finlay Calder in the third Test against Australia in 1989.

Japan scouting report

With Japan not having played a Test match since the 2019 RWC it’s difficult to say with certainty how they will play. Up until that point though the Brave Blossoms’ head coach, Jamie Joseph, had shown a commitment to a fast-paced, high-skilled style and it’s likely this will continue to provide the foundation for Japan in the current World Cup cycle.

  • Contestable kicks: Japan are not keen to give possession away. When they do kick it’s with the aim of retaining the ball in better field position. Against Ireland, Scotland and South Africa during the 2019 RWC the Japanese regathered 33 of their 49 kicks from hand (their opponents only managed that on 28 of 70 kicks).
  • Pass masters: the Japanese flung over 200 passes in each of their RWC fixtures against Tier 1 sides. They will keep the ball moving and look to work over the defensive line until they can find a gap. The Lions can expect to blow off any cobwebs chasing the ball around the pitch if Japan get going on Saturday!
  • Danger man: with superstar back row Kazuki Himeno only on the bench – due to his late arrival from the Highlanders and Super Rugby Tans Tasman – Kotaro Matsushima has to be the one to watch in the Japanese starting XV. The winger has a superb scoring record, notching a try every 120 minutes in Test rugby (not George Horne numbers but still pretty good!) The Clermont player will be giving away 18cm and 18kgs to opposite man Duhan van der Merwe but he’s never been one to shirk a challenge – and his acceleration and change of direction will be a good test for van der Merwe if the giant Scottish wing has ambitions of covering Cheslin Kolbe in a few weeks’ time.


Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant Referee 1: Pierre Brousset (France)
Assistant Referee 2: Ludovic Cayre (France)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

This will be the last ever international before retirement for M. Gauzere. Fittingly it will come at Murrayfield which has been a regular haunt of his in recent years. The French official has taken charge of 10 Scotland matches in a little over 4 years, with half of those games being played in Edinburgh. Au revoir M. Gauzere!

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When he's not watching Glasgow, Scotland (and even Edinburgh) Kevin can usually be found with his head in a spreadsheet working out the most obscure Scottish rugby related stat he can put out on Twitter.
Follow Kevin on twitter @topofthemoonGW

25 comments on “British and Irish Lions v Japan Match Preview

  1. Andy F on

    Lions also played The Barbarians at Twickenham in 1977.
    Not sure who would technically be ‘host’ though. Probably Lions given the Barbarians nomadic tradition of having no home ground?

      • Not science on

        Looks like Hogg didn’t start Premiership final and Exeter duly lost. But bagged one once came on. Good. Anyone catch it?

      • Bryzzowan on

        Yes. It was bloody epic!!

        Johnny Gray played well can’t believe he hasn’t been called up for AWJ.

        Hogg was bright when he came on but as I’ve said here before he really doesn’t seem to have the same prominence or play the same role for Exeter as for Scotland – and he’s looked hesitant ever since the big finals he played in last year when he hardly touched the ball in both.

      • Rory Baldwin on

        I sort of get what you mean, at Exeter he’s like World Class Workmanlike. Does the fullback basics well as part of a well-oiled machine. Whereas for Scotland he’s required to bring a little more creativity/spark to proceedings which also brings risk.

      • Tryhard on

        Yeah it’s a bit of a shame Exeter haven’t adapted their system to use him effectively yet in the same way as Glasgow and Scotland.

        For instance he’s an excellent playmaker and support runner but Simmonds does all of the former in the (limited) times
        the backs get a proper attacking platform. The latter is particularly annoying as players like O’Flaherty will make breaks but are either unable, unwilling or being told not to pass it to Hogg who’s often on their shoulder.

        Hopefully will come when he’s been there a little longer and is comfortable leading things a bit more.

    • warmer on

      The Japan test was anything but a test, if he gets the chance, Duhan will develop on this tour.

  2. James on

    Anyone else’s viewing of the game ruined by channel 4 going down on virgin media?

    From what I could see seemed a solid if unspectacular performance.

  3. Fraser on

    Brief thoughts and ratings

    Horrible Channel 4 commentary as usual, very one-eyed commentators with some players getting constantly heaped with praise and mistakes ignored, and others constantly criticised for little reason.

    Scottish players
    Sutherland did well, set piece rock solid and lots of the hard work done. Would have liked to see more of him in the loose. Scrum looked much weaker when the front row subs came on. Test chances decent I think.
    VDM did a lot of hard work, made himself available a lot, came off his wing looking for the ball, helped out in rucks etc. Positioning a little off a couple of times but no real issues. Still in with a shout for a test spot.
    Ali Price too little time to really tell.

    Other notable players
    Bigger was solid, but I don’t think nearly as impressive as was made out.
    Murray leading 9 by a ways.
    Aki and Henshaw looked promising.
    Williams was good but again not as much as the commentators suggested.
    Owens and Furlong with Sutherland is a strong front row.
    Tipuric was good until injured, some of the issues afterwards were down to no real 7 playing so will help Watsons cause.
    Farrell was pretty anonymous.
    Conan worked very hard and was impressive.
    Josh Adams was decent but made a few errors.
    Felt a bit bad for AWJ – looked like he could be out for a while.
    Beirne was good.

    Overall not a bad start, second half a bit too loose and didn’t have the same intensity.
    Japan still great to watch.

    • CSC on

      Agree about the commentary. I don’t believe that a successful playing career is adequate qualification to be a TV pundit. Brian Moore apart most of them shouldn’t be let allowed near a microphone.

    • David on

      “Williams was good but again not as much as the commentators suggested.”

      The commentators couldn’t tell the difference between Williams and Duhan, so seemed to go with the simple mantra of if it was good it was Williams, if it was bad it was Duhan.

      Case in point was the Duhan try which they claimed was made by the Williams break on the left wing. That break was ALSO Duhan, who made the break on the left then finished on the right. Excellent workrate.

      • Rory Baldwin on

        I thought Duhan was pretty effective going forward but that’s not going to be the concern – the concern will be can any of the wings survive a one-on-one with Cheslin Kolbe?!

      • Alanyst on

        To be fair, despite being very narrow at times, Duhan was able to make his ground and held Matsushima in check. Matsushima is not Kolbe, but he’s no slouch either.

      • Sam Laycock on

        also Tandy’s defensive system is far more of a drift than the English, Welsh or Irish are used to and allows for a bit of space to be out wide. I think a lot of the commentary failed to take this into account.

  4. Saint4805 on

    Real pity for AWJ who must be gutted not to be travelling tomorrow. Gotta think they’ll call up Gray or Ryan.
    Wondering who they will make captain. I’ll be an absolute travesty if it’s Farrell who’s basically last choice for both 10 and 12 positions based on recent form. Contenders have to be Owens, Hogg and Henderson.

  5. James on

    Beard??? Don’t think anyone saw that coming. Or Murray as replacement captain. I’d have gone with Ken Owens.

  6. PunkyPar on

    J Gray was excellent for Exeter today and must be truly gutted to be overlooked again to replace AWJ – a crap decision all round. Hogg looked his usual class when he came on in the Englandshire finale ( which was a cracking game to be fair)
    In the Lions game DvDM took his try well and was strong going forward….still gives the jitters defensively – Boks will have taken note…
    Suzz was solid in scrum and can have done his cause for a Test start no harm at all –

    • PunkyPar on

      And Murray being appointed tour captain when not being the nailed on starting 9? Shades of Fitzgerald in ’83….

      • Fraser on

        I would say Murray is pretty nailed on. Not many others are of the potential other options – Farrell isn’t, Hogg isn’t (as much as I think he should be but Williams gets praised so much I fear it will be him), Owens probably close to nailed on.

        Beard is a bit ridiculous over some of the other options. Navidi is fair enough.

  7. 1.8T on

    I tuned in about 20mins late as never realised it was on “cooncil” TV so missed the early tries. A solid but unspectacular performance, Japan didn’t wake up until after the brake but when they did they played some quality rugby. Gutted for AWJ, a brilliant leader of men with bags of experience, a big loss. Same for Tipuric, selfishly it improves the chances of Mish being starting 7 but Tipuric is a big loss to any squad.

    I felt Duhan got an unfair ride from the commentators, he was out of position a couple of times (like he always is) but generally I thought he played well, went looking for work which he is sometimes guilty of not doing and always made ground, no howlers and not discernibly better or worse than Adams on the other wing who was getting plaudits. Suds had a solid game, Furlong had a great game, Zander has his work cut out to usurp him. Price was also solid if unspectacular when he came on, looks like Murray will be nailed on 9 now though. Biggar had a good game but nothing spectacular and worthy of the plaudits being rained on him. It pains me to say but Liam Williams did have an excellent game, maybe Hogg isn’t as nailed on as we all want him to be…

    Maybe it’s just natural and always happens with this kind of thing but I noticed all the non playing Scots other than Chris Harris were generally in a wee group together. Not entirely sure what that means but thought it was interesting.

  8. Busy Little Bee on

    Hoggs has just had his teeth and his hair done, he’ll be smarting about getting dropped by Exeter and then probably not making the Lions test team.

    Wonder what the Lions selectors see missing in Johnny Gray that we can’t see. Jonny Hill looks inferior never mind Adam Beards. Navidi is well worth his place though.

    Don’t think this is a strong Lions squad. Aki is mince. Gatland is picking some real limited lumps ahead of classier players.

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