HE has already pulled off the biggest upset of this or any other World Cup, now Japan coach Eddie Jones has his sights set firmly on Scotland.
The sides meet in Gloucester this afternoon and Jones made the bold claim yesterday that Japan were a far fitter team than the Scots who, he said, tended to run out of puff after half-time.
The Asian champions have become the darlings of the tournament since defeating two-time former winners South Africa in Brighton on Saturday.
The Pool B opener sent reverberations around world sport, but Jones wants his team to prove their slaying of the Springboks was no fluke. And despite having had just four days’ rest, the former Australia coach insists his team will have the legs on Scotland.
“If you look at Scotland’s scoring profile they are very heavily a first-half scoring team,” Jones said. “They get outscored consistently in the second half. So we know we are a fit team. If we can stick with them in the first 30 minutes and we are in the game at half-time we will run them off their feet.”
So Japan are fitter than Scotland, Jones was asked.
“Definitely,” he replied. “Definitely.”
Jones is an astute coach and is happy to indulge in a little cod psychology. He claims the Kingsholm crowd will be backing Japan today and that all the pressure is on Vern Cotter’s side.
“People in Gloucester know their rugby, so hopefully we’ll get a lot of support from the local crowd,” Jones added. “They normally wear red and white, so they can wear red and white tomorrow and support us. And we know the English don’t like the Scottish, so that’s another bonus for us.”
It was all offered in jest, probably, but with Japan above Scotland in the World Rugby rankings this will be a tough opener for the Scots.
“We didn’t feel any pressure in the South African game,” Jones insisted. “There is a great American coach who said: ‘Pressure is what you feel when you don’t know what you are doing’. So while we are nervous about the game we don’t feel any pressure. I think the pressure is definitely on Scotland.”
The Scots refused to rise to the bait yesterday. Defence coach Matt Taylor batted away Jones’ fitness boasts but there is no masking the significance of today’s game.
Ross Ford, the veteran Scotland hooker, called it a “pivotal match” and also made a rare admission that the team had targeted the quarter-finals as a minimum requirement.
“We have got to get to the knockout stages,” said Ford when asked what would constitute a successful World Cup for Scotland. “That is what we have set our sights on and then take it on a game by game basis.”
Ford added: “It’s the opening game of the World Cup and it’s about building momentum off the back of it. So from that point of view it becomes a pivotal game for us. You want to get off to a good start.”
When asked what lessons Scotland had taken from Japan’s opening victory Ford pinpointed the Springboks’ inability to finish off stubborn opposition who jumped off the canvas more than once when it seemed like they were about to be counted out.
“You could see from the way the game unfolded on Saturday that Japan never gave up, they kept coming back at South Africa. It was constant pressure so we need to make sure we’re on the ball all the time and not drifting away. We need to deal with the here and now, go phase by phase and we can’t allow ourselves to drop off. That is the biggest thing, being in the moment the whole time.”