This coming Saturday (9 November) Japan will visit Murrayfield, yet the Cherry Blossoms will be a very different side to that who last played Scotland at home.
Following a historical win over Wales in summer – their first over a tier one nation – Japan are likely to come in to this encounter with a new found belief that they can compete and ultimately win against the higher ranked teams of world rugby, Scotland included.
The squad visited Leith Academy today to deliver a session to over 100 children from P7 up to under-18 level:
Japan’s progress has been relentless since their last test match on Scottish soil, when they fell victim to the home team’s highest ever points tally in a 100-8 defeat in Aberdeen, back in 2004.
With the wisdom and experience of head coach Eddie Jones – who unfortunately couldn’t be present during the end of year tour due to health issues – many members of the Japan squad will have developed a deeper understanding and knowledge of the game, something which has been reflected in their recent performances.
The Japan squad are renowned for playing an exciting, attacking brand of rugby. Despite at times lacking physicality and power, they will look to play to their strengths and initiate an expansive game at any given opportunity – Japan record the highest average pass rate in world rugby with an estimated 225 passes per game, testimony to their ability to play with ball in hand. Japan also held a consecutive run of 55 games scoring a try in every game from June 2008 until it ended against USA in June of this year, a record only beaten by the All Blacks.
A player who epitomises the Japanese high tempo style of game is scrum-half, Fumiaki Tanaka. In his native Japan, Tanaka plays for Panasonic Wild Knights, yet also turns out for Otago and the Highlanders in New Zealand, competing in the NPC and Super Rugby respectively.
Although arguably the smallest – both in height and frame – player to compete in Super Rugby, his enormity in heart and talent more than makes up for his lack of physical presence. Tanaka’s cult hero status in the south of New Zealand where he plays, is verification of his ability to pose a real attacking threat to all opposition. Scotland will have to try smother the sniping scrum-half in order to break down the base of the Japanese attacking platform, which is formed mainly around Tanaka.
Another threat to Scotland from the Cherry Blossoms’ line-up is a new breed of Japanese forward in the form of hooker, Shota Horie. The front-row, like Tanaka, splits his rugby between Japanese club Panasonic Wild Knights and a club competing in Super Rugby. Horie, once again like Tanaka, played in New Zealand with Otago, yet following glimmering performances with the South Islanders rightfully earned a contract across the Tasman Sea in Australia with the Super Rugby franchise, Melbourne Rebels.
His power and intensity could discomfort the Scotland front-row in set piece as well as in open play where he boasts a reputation as an established ball-player, recording five tries in just 24 caps – a superb strike rate for a hooker.
Japan Team: Ayumu Goromaru; Toshiaki Hirose (captain), Male Sau, Craig Wing, Kenki Fukuoka; Kosei Ono, Fumiaki Tanaka; Masataka Mikami, Shota Horie, Kensuke Hatakeyama, Luke Thompson, Shinya Makabe, Hendrik Tui, Michael Broadhurst and Ryu Koliniasi Holani.
Replacements: Yusuka Aoki, Yusuke Nagae, Horoshi Yamashita, Hitoshi Ono, Takashi Kikutani, Atushi Hiwasa, Yu Tamara and Yoshikazu Fujita.