The good news is that one Scottish flanker has previous experience of what is required to beat Japan on the rugby field. The bad news is that it happened many moons ago when he turned out for the national under-20s team and he can’t remember much about the game, except that it was played on Japanese soil and in pretty miserable conditions.
Not that Scotland head coach Vern Cotter’s brains trust needs to quiz Ryan Wilson, since they had ample evidence of the dramatic improvement by Wednesday’s opposition. The Scotland camp had repeatedly warned that Japan were a force to be reckoned with, although the same message evidently was not hammered home inside the Springboks’ camp.
“I was definitely impressed with Japan,” said the hirsute Wilson, on what was a rest day for the Scotland squad. “We watched the game on Saturday night but we knew just how good Japan were going to be as we have been watching a lot of their stuff.
“We’ve studied footage of the games they’ve played over the last year or so. We already knew they were a well- drilled outfit. As much as it was a shock to everyone, we knew they are a good team. It was South Africa in the opening game and you just expect them [South Africa] to come out with all guns blazing but they didn’t.
“We have watched them [Japan] closely and gone through everything. Their lineout went well, their scrum went well. They only made three handling errors in the whole game. They also limited their penalties and they played an all-round good game. They managed to keep the pressure on South Africa and they shocked them.”
They didn’t just shock South Africa, they shocked the entire sporting world. Japan were 80-1 outsiders before the game although, as per usual, someone claimed to know someone who got 100-1. The figures matter little, the fact remains that this can lay claim to be one of the biggest upsets in sporting history. The only comparable shock in team sports that comes to mind was the so called “Miracle on Ice” at the Lake Placid 1980 Winter Games when a team of American college students beat the Soviet side that had lifted gold in six of the previous seven Olympics.
The response from the Scotland squad to Japan’s very own miracle in Brighton was one of business as usual. The starting XV for Wednesday had already been selected, and the manager Gavin Scott confirmed that no changes had been made to it following South Africa’s humbling. The line Scotland are taking is that they were always aware of the threat so, while the final result may have raised an eyebrow or two, the performance of the Japanese team was not unexpected, a view underlined by Wilson.
“I don’t think the Japan result has changed anything, there is no more or less pressure on us,” said the flanker. “We are still approaching the game as it being the biggest one for us. It was always going to be about taking things one step at a time, so this is the biggest game for us at the moment. We will go into this game knowing that Japan are a tough team to break down.
“They will have been sore on Sunday morning, I can guarantee that. But they now have a game under their belt and now have a win against South Africa. I believe having a win like that gives you a level of confidence, which is unbelievable for them.
“They have the challenge of coming down from the euphoria. I saw Dents [David Denton] put a tweet out about him hoping the Japan squad go out and have a few beers. That gave me a laugh but I’m sure they won’t be doing that. They will be doing everything they can, in the same way as we will, to get ready for this game on Wednesday.
“I believe it would have helped Japan getting this result but they have a 31- man squad and I’m sure they will use some of their other players. I’m sure they will have full confidence in their entire squad.
“I’m sure there will be rotation because there will be some beat-up bodies, especially after a game against South Africa. I played against them once and came away from the game with a dislocated shoulder.
“So I know how they’ll be feeling, but I don’t think they’ll have any problems getting right back up for their game against us. I have no doubt they’ll be ready to go in four days’ time.”
The impact this victory will have on Japan will only be revealed on Wednesday, although the inevitable growth in self-belief will be countered by the four- day turnaround and the psychological difficult in mentally preparing for the Scotland match while still celebrating the Springboks’ scalp, if only at a subconscious level.
The effect on South Africa will be very much more obvious and immediate if the reaction of the fans is anything to go by; one immediately sold his Springbok shirt in disgust. South Africa face Samoa next, on Saturday in Birmingham, after which we will know whether the loss to Japan was a blip, or the result of something much more serious for Heyneke Meyer’s Springboks.