Saturday 20th November 2021
BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh
TV coverage – Amazon Prime
While these sides may have met four times in the intervening period (three times in Japan and once in Gloucester) it has been eight years since the Brave Blossoms last played Scotland at Murrayfield. Of the 46 players named for Saturday’s encounter the only survivor from that previous fixture is Japan’s replacement stand off Yu Tamura, who filled the same number 22 shirt in 2013.
Backs: Stuart Hogg (c), Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price
Forwards: Jamie Bhatti, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Josh Bayliss
Replacements: Stuart McInally, Pierre Schoeman, Javan Sebastian, Sam Skinner, Dylan Richardson, Matt Fagerson, George Horne, Blair Kinghorn
Backs: Ryohei Yamanaka, Kotaro Matsushima, Shogo Nakano, Ryoto Nakamura, Siosaia Fifita, Rikiya Matsuda, Yutaka Nagare
Forwards: Craig Millar, Atsushi Sakate, Asaeli Ai Valu, Jack Cornelsen, James Moore, Michael Leitch, Pieter Labuschagne (c), Kazuki Himeno
Replacements: Kosuke Horikoshi, Keita Inagaki, Shinnosuke Kakinaga, Ben Gunter, Tevita Tatafu, Naoto Saito, Yu Tamura, Dylan Riley
For more on the Scotland team selection click here.
Japan Scouting Report
Wide, wide, wide
During these nations’ last encounter at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the Japanese outside backs ripped Scotland’s defence apart. They combined for 361 running metres (just 14 metres less than the entire Scottish team); 11 clean breaks; and 17 defenders beaten.
Not only did Japan have a smart game plan that made the best use of their players but they executed it almost perfectly. Gregor Townsend’s side were swept away in Yokohama but they have changed their approach to defending since then. This will be an interesting test of how much defence coach Steve Tandy’s systems have really bedded in since that fateful day two years ago. Scotland’s backs will certainly be in for a very different kind of test than they faced last week against the Springboks.
Back row bomb squad
Scotland will be facing the same back row that functioned so well for Japan at the RWC. The starting trio are all players who get through an absolute power of work – on both sides of the ball. There is no question that Kazuki Himeno is the star man though. Just a few months ago he was hugely impressive when the Brave Blossoms tackled the Lions at Murrayfield. On that occasion the number 8 was sprung from the bench but he banged out 9 carries for 45 metres, picking up a try in his half an hour on the pitch.
Possibly even more imposing in that same match was Tevita Tatafu. The 120kg back row smashed his way through the defence of the best that British and Irish rugby had to offer, breaking 6 tackles and chalking up 67 metres with ball in hand. With another heavyweight replacement, Ben Gunter, also primarily a flanker, there will be no let up in intensity in the back row battle even if Japan do need to go to their bench.
- If someone hasn’t taken Japan’s starting prop Craig Millar the short 5-mile trip from Murrayfield to have his picture taken in Craigmillar in Edinburgh then there really is no point to the Brave Blossoms tour of Europe!
- In their three games this Autumn (v Australia, Ireland and Portugal) Japan have conceded 40 penalties and 4 yellow cards.
- In their matches against Australia and Ireland, Japan only managed 5 clean breaks and 16 defenders beaten across 160 minutes of game time. Compare and contrast to the 13 clean breaks and 33 defenders beaten they managed in just 80 minutes versus Scotland at the RWC.
These teams have met on three previous occasions in Scotland with the home side winning all three matches:
Scotland 42 – 17 Japan
Murrayfield, 9 November 2013
Scotland: Tommy Seymour (2T); Alasdair Dickinson (1T); Sean Lamont (1T); Greig Laidlaw (1T, 2C & 2P); Duncan Weir (1T & 1C)
Japan: Kenki Fukuoka (2T); Ayumu Goromaru (2C & 1P)
Scotland 100 – 8 Japan
McDiarmid Park, 13 November 2004
Scotland: Mike Blair (1T); Andy Henderson (1T); Ally Hogg (1T); Sean Lamont (1T); Donnie MacFadyen (1T); Graeme Morrison (1T); Dan Parks (1T); Jon Petrie (1T); Robbie Russell (2T); Hugo Southwell (2T); Chris Paterson (3T, 11C & 1P)
Japan: Hayato Daimon (1T); Wataru Ikeda (1P)
Scotland 47 – 9 Japan
Murrayfield, 5 October 1991
Scotland: Scott Hastings (1T); Tony Stanger (1T); Iwan Tukalo (1T); Derek White (1T); Penalty Try (1T); Craig Chalmers (1T & 1P); Gavin Hastings (1T, 5C & 2P)
Japan: Takahiro Hosokawa (1T, 1C & 1P)
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Assistant 1: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant 2: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
The rest of the officiating team may be very familiar to most of the home side’s players (Mr Williams from multiple Tests, Messrs. Piardi and Berry from the URC/PRO14) but Mr Pickerill will be refereeing Scotland for the first time. While he may be younger than Japan’s captain Pieter Labuschagne, the Kiwi whistler is one of the up and coming officials on the world circuit and is likely to become a reasonably familiar face for Scottish fans in the coming seasons.
With the World Cup less than two years away, three southern hemisphere refs having taken charge of matches at Murrayfield this November will have been a useful exercise for Gregor Townsend and his staff. The differences in interpretation from their northern counterparts may be small but they are there and Scotland need to be prepared if they draw a SANZAAR ref for one of their big games at France 2023.