Scotland v Japan: Stuart Hogg on the cusp of two pieces of rugby history

As Scotland reacquaint themselves with Japan on Saturday, Stuart Hogg finds himself on the cusp of making two pieces of significant rugby history.

Scotland captain Stuart Hogg during training at BT Murrayfield on the eve of the match against Japan. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The captain has been selected to win his 88th cap, moving him ahead of Scott Murray into fourth place on his own in the list of Scotland’s most capped male players. Only centurions Ross Ford (110), Chris Paterson (109) and Sean Lamont (105) have played more often than him.

Hogg is also one score away from becoming Scotland’s leading try-scorer of all time after his superb brace in the loss to South Africa last weekend drew him level with Ian Smith and Tony Stanger’s jointly held record of 24.

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Hogg is a champion of the collective and was reluctant to speak about himself on the eve of the match, preferring instead to talk up his team-mates as they look to close out their Autumn Nations Series with a third victory from four matches.

Stuart Hogg scores his second try against South Africa which drew him level with Ian Smith and Tony Stanger on 24 tries for Scotland. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The full-back said he hadn’t spoken to fellow Hawick man Stanger about the record but would look forward to doing so if and when he scores his 25th Scotland try.

“If that day ever comes we’ll probably have a catch-up about it,” said Hogg.

“I want to be in the position to score tries to help out the team. But I just want Scotland to win and to put in performances that we’re all proud of. Anything that comes on the back of that is a bonus. But it won’t be through lack of trying, you can be sure of that.”

Stanger’s 24 tries came in 52 internationals between 1989 and 1998, with the high point coming in 1990 when his crucial score helped win the Grand Slam decider against England, two years before Hogg was born.

Stuart Hogg in action during the Rugby World Cup loss to Japan in Yokohama in 2019. (Photo by Gary Hutchison/ SNS Group)

Smith’s stats are even more impressive, bordering on the miraculous. The ‘Flying Scotsman’ played for his country only 32 times and averaged a try every 1.33 games. His haul of 24 was a world record in international rugby which stood for 50 years until David Campese broke it in the semi-finals of the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987.

The Australian-born Smith scored a hat-trick on his international debut, against Wales in 1924, and helped Scotland win the Grand Slam the following year. He bowed out of Test rugby in 1933 after leading Scotland to the Triple Crown.

Smith’s name was invoked by Gregor Townsend at the start of the Autumn Nations Series, revealed Hogg, who confessed to not knowing too much about the winger who first pulled on the dark blue almost a century ago.

“Unfortunately I don’t, although Gregor put him up on the board at the start of the campaign. I know a lot more about Tony Stanger. He managed to get to 24 tries in just 52 caps. I’ve got a lot more games under my belt! I’m enjoying it and having fun but I just want Scotland wins more than anything else.”

Kotara Matsushima on the attack for Japan against the British & Irish Lions at BT Murrayfield in June. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

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Anything other than a home victory on Saturday would be a huge shock, with some bookmakers pricing Townsend’s side at 1/25 to win.

The defeat suffered against Japan at the 2019 World Cup remains vivid but the sides have experienced contrasting fortunes since Yokohama in what can now be viewed as a watershed moment.

Townsend overhauled his coaching staff in the aftermath of the group stage elimination, with the addition of Steve Tandy to beef up the defence key.

Japan have been denied the chance to build on their success of two years ago, with Covid travelling restrictions severely curbing their ability to play Test match rugby. Their 60-5 defeat at the hands of Ireland a fortnight ago was an awful result but one the Scotland camp have been careful to play down.

Hogg expects to see a Japan side more like the one which gave the British and Irish Lions a decent workout in their send-off game at Murrayfield in June before losing 28-10.

“They are a very, very intelligent rugby team and one of the quickest in terms of shifting the ball side to side going forward,” said the full-back. “They have key players in there with a lot of strengths and their kicking game is very, very good.

“In 2016 [when Scotland toured] they went from defending a lineout five metres from their line to taking seven points a few minutes later. They know what they are about.

“They are a terrific side and it is a great opportunity for us to show where we are in our defence, to be the best team in the world for defending.

“You can’t look into many of the games they have been involved in recently because they have not had a huge amount of rugby. If you look back at the game against the Lions in the summer, the game we have looked at a lot this week, they were right in it until the end.

“We know Japan will be really really physical. We know they will shift the ball around and stick with it for a full 80 minutes.”

Despite the crushing win over Tonga and the narrow victory against Australia, Hogg feels Scotland have not fully delivered this autumn, something he would like to put right on Saturday.

“I think if we’re being honest we’ve yet to have a complete performance on both sides of the ball, but we’ve learned a huge amount throughout these last three games,” he said.

“I don’t care how we win, as long as we’re winning. But then again I know exactly our attack structures and how we want to play the game. So it will be exciting. It will be end to end, side to side, exactly what we want. But yeah, hopefully on Saturday we’ll put in a performance that we’re proud of, that the nation is proud of, and ultimately that gets everybody at BT Murrayfield on their feet.”

Scotland v Japan, Autumn Nations Series, BT Murrayfield, Saturday, 1pm. TV: live on Amazon Prime

Scotland: 15. Stuart Hogg (c); 14. Darcy Graham, 13. Chris Harris, 12. Sam Johnson, 11. Duhan van der Merwe; 10. Finn Russell, 9. Ali Price; 1. Jamie Bhatti, 2. George Turner, 3. Zander Fagerson, 4. Scott Cummings, 5. Grant Gilchrist, 6. Jamie Ritchie, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Josh Bayliss.

Substitutes: 16. Stuart McInally, 17. Pierre Schoeman, 18. Javan Sebastian, 19. Sam Skinner, 20. Dylan Richardson, 21. Matt Fagerson, 22. George Horne, 23. Blair Kinghorn.

Japan: 15 Ryohei Yamanaka; 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Shogo Nakano, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Siosaia Fifita; 10 Rikiya Matsuda, 9 Yutaka Nagare; 1 Craig Millar, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 3 Asaeli Ai Valu, 4 Jack Cornelsen, 5 James Moore, 6 Michael Leitch, 7 Pieter Labuschagne (c), 8 Kazuki Himeno.

Substitutes: 16 Kosuke Horikoshi, 17. Keita Inagaki, 18. Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 19. Ben Gunter, 20. Tevita Tatafu, 21. Naoto Saito, 22. Yu Tamura, 23. Dylan Riley.

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