Matt Scott eyes return to Japan for 2019 World Cup

Tucked away at the back of all the Scotland players' minds on their current tour of Japan is a little thought: 'I could be back here in three years in the World Cup'. So maybe there is a bit more attention being paid to the weather conditions, the battle with humidity, the pleasures but also the perils of the local food.
Matt Scott on the rampage during Scotland's first Test win over Japan in Toyota City.  Picture: Atsushi Tomura/Getty ImagesMatt Scott on the rampage during Scotland's first Test win over Japan in Toyota City.  Picture: Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images
Matt Scott on the rampage during Scotland's first Test win over Japan in Toyota City. Picture: Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

It is all part of making sure that if the call comes for that Scotland pre-World Cup training camp in June 2019, each ones knows he is not just ready for the arduous physical demands of the training but will be making sure they feel on familiar territory when they catch the plane heading east.

One thing they have come to realise is that rugby may be playing catch-up with the big sports that dominate in Japan – baseball, football and even volleyball rank a long way ahead at the moment – but that it is making ground. Fast.

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“We have been taken aback by the number of rugby-mad people that are here, compared to other countries we have been to,” observed Matt Scott, the centre. “We always have people at the hotel looking for autographs. When we got onto the bus there were 100 or so people cheering us.

“They are really embracing rugby. That will only grow with the success of the Japan team, leading up to the World Cup. I am sure it will be an amazing place to be coming to in 2019, so, yes, I would love to be involved.”

So while the mini marathon endurance feats experienced by some of the players in the first Test may not be so essential against different opponents, Scott is coming to realise that the conditions are going to be a test regardless of who they are up against.

“It was a tough Test to play in,” he said. “It was really hot and our GPS stats were way up on what they usually were. Obviously we were happy to win the game against a really strong team but it was a decent first hit-out. There was lots of area to improve.

“We did not take our chances as well as we could have. We let them off the hook a little bit and that made the game very tight at the end. We have a lot to improve on this week.

“We had a good analysis session on Tuesday morning and targeted a few areas. We have to be a bit quicker to the ball carrier at the breakdown – they are pretty quick at getting a guy over the ball.

“We need to be more clinical in their 22 and take our opportunities and when we are playing the ball in the middle of the pitch, we have to be smarter. We got turned over there and they scored their try, something they are very good at.”

Which is not to say it is all negative. They did, after all, win the game despite a liberal helping of self-imposed trouble. “There were a lot of positives,” Scott insisted. “In the first half we controlled the possession and territory but we could not get far ahead of them. We got to their line but did not score. These scores will take us to the next level as a team. We are creating the opportunities – the next stage is to put a team to the sword.

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“Japan will be even better than they were last week and they are playing in front of Emperor Akihito for the first time. They will be up for it so it will be a very hard test.”

That is a message echoed by Sean Maitland, who is hoping that his 24-minute cameo will be enough to force his way back into the starting team for the first time since he pulled out of the team on the eve of the Wales game in February.

“Winning at the weekend was a good feeling, obviously, we didn’t win many games with London Irish,” he said. “Being in the changing room with your mates after you’ve won a rugby game is the best time in your life, so it was good to win with the boys.

“It has been a bit of a rollercoaster season for me. From almost getting to the semis of the World Cup to being relegated, then coming here with the boys before going to a new club [Saracens]. That’s rugby – it’s always full of surprises. After this week I’m looking forward to going to the new club and getting stuck in.”