DEFENCE coach Matt Taylor says the stereotypical view of Japan as physically small but highly organised will not be borne out by the reality Scotland will come up against at Gloucester in 12 days’ time when they open their World Cup campaign.
Scotland have faced Japan in the World Cups of 1991 and 2003, but Taylor has warned that preconceived notions about the Brave Blossoms would be unwise.
Japan are a very good side… and quite big when you look at themMatt Taylor
“From what we can see of Japan, they are a very good side,” said the Australia-born former Scotland A cap yesterday. “Maybe the stereotype of Japan, and the Japanese people in general, is that they are quite small, but this side is actually quite big when you look at them.
“The have a big back line and a big forward pack. They try to play a quick-tempo type game, a very high-skill game, but actually there are a lot of big players in that group. They have a few Islander guys in there. The back row Hendrik Tui, he is very, very good and has scored a lot of tries.
“There is a centre, Male Sa’u, he is a really good carrier and strong, so they have some really good players in the group. They might play it slightly differently from maybe South Africa or Samoa, but they do have powerful athletes as well.
“We’ve focused a lot of our preparation on the first two games and making sure we do really well in those first two games. As much as we have others teams to play, we have tried to tailor our training around those first two games.
Japan are coached by Eddie Jones, the man who led Australia to the 2003 World Cup final, and a glance at the squad list shows, in addition to the Pacific Islanders, names such as Luke Thompson, Michael Broadhurst, Justin Ives and Craig Wing.
Like Scotland, they have exploited the residency rules and Jones said this week: “We still use foreign players, but we try to keep Japanese players in the key positions, 2, 8, 9, 10, 15, so the team is run by Japanese players and those who qualify by residency bring power to the game. You need power.”
Skipper Michael Leitch may not sound very Japanese, but the Fiji-born 26-year-old moved to Japan with his parents as a 15-year-old.
Scotland’s South Africa-born back-rower Josh Strauss becomes eligible a week tomorrow and Taylor admitted it was yet to be decided whether he is thrown straight in against Japan or held for the next game against the United States or even debut against the land of his birth.
“That is something we will have to sit down, talk through and work out,” said Taylor. “Dave Denton has been playing pretty well, so it is something we are going to have to work out – how we are going to use our guys or whether we have specialist No 8s in which games and why, things like that.
“That could be the case. He could start against Japan or against the USA or he might not start at all until maybe South Africa. We are going to have to sit down and work out what is best.”
Taylor said that, while the final say on all matters lies with head coach Vern Cotter, there is input from the rest of the coaching staff and the players themselves in the form of the leadership “Thistle Group”.
Taylor said: “We have a group of senior players who catch up with Vern and discuss different things and how we are going to go about things. That is part of the development of the group.”
With responsibility for defence, Taylor said he was pleased with the way things have gone in the warm-up Tests. After conceding four tries in the first, against Ireland, the Scots have leaked just two in their past three matches and the defensive effort during last weekend’s dramatic 19-16 loss at the Stade de France was particularly impressive.
“In terms of body on the line and getting up and making dominant hits, we have looked really good,” said Taylor.
“We also need to be more accurate as we were bounced off a few tackles as well. Defensively we want our guys to put their bodies on the line and I believe your culture is reflected in your defence, workrate and effort and that really came out against France.
“If we can defend as we did at the weekend and keep improving, then that should hold us in pretty good stead.
“We have our systems and the way we defend and we don’t change that too much, but you have emphasis on certain things.
“A side like France might attack you close to the ruck, so that week you may have an emphasis on having a guarding shield and two defenders close by. A team like Japan may make their line-breaks a bit further out and wider, so we have to work on our defence making an impact out wider.”
Prop Al Dickinson is still going through concussion protocols after taking a head knock in Paris, but all other minor injury concerns – Stuart Hogg, Peter Horne and Ryan Grant – are on course for full recoveries by the time the tournament starts.