Japan v Scotland: How do you prepare for a match that might not take place?

Japan players Takuya Kitade, left, and Yusuke Kizu wade through a flooded walkway at a stadium in Tokyo as the team try to train for the Scotland match. Picture: Yuki Sato/Kyodo News via AP
Japan players Takuya Kitade, left, and Yusuke Kizu wade through a flooded walkway at a stadium in Tokyo as the team try to train for the Scotland match. Picture: Yuki Sato/Kyodo News via AP
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So how exactly does a rugby team prepare for the biggest match many of the players will ever have played in while typhoons and earthquakes rage outside the hopeful safety of their hotel, with no guarantee that the game will go ahead?

Scotland’s most-capped scrum-half Mike Blair has seen a good deal during his long association with the game of rugby but he admitted that this was uncharted territory.

“It is a bit different, isn’t it?” said the Scotland assistant backs coach with beautifully-judged understatement. “The thing for us is that we have one thing to focus on and we’ll do that to the best of our ability. We assume the game will be on and we have been preparing in that way.”

As Super Typhoon Hagibis raged across Japan on Saturday, with a nearby earthquake also thrown into the mix, the Scotland squad were hunkered down in their hotel.

It was revealed that they had hired out the hotel ballroom to walk through moves and lineouts as they were denied a training day in what is already an extremely tight turnaround to Sunday night’s huge and quarter-finalist-deciding Pool A denouement against hosts Japan, which at the time of writing was still scheduled to go ahead in front of 70,000 people at Yokohama International Stadium at 11.45am UK time this morning.

That will depend on how much havoc is caused by the mega-storm, which is being described in Japan as a “once in five decades” weather event. “It has not come into our minds too much,” insisted Blair as the storm gathered. “We have a game to play.

“It has been well documented how disappointed we were with that first game [against Ireland at the same Yokohama stadium three weeks ago]. We didn’t hit our straps in it and Ireland capitalised on our errors.”

The Scots have gone on to beat Samoa 34-0 and Russia 61-0 to set up a clash with the hosts, who sit four points ahead of Gregor Townsend’s men, meaning a win without a bonus point while denying the Brave Blossoms a bonus, or a bonus-point victory while limiting them to no more than one, is the clear task that lies ahead. Though obviously the weather situation has made the word “clear” a moot one.

“Since [Ireland] we’ve done really well and we’ve been pleased with what we’ve been doing,” added Blair. “I think it was the first time since 1964 that we have nilled a team two times in a row, and that’s excellent on the back of the work [defence coach] Matt Taylor has been doing with the team.

“Obviously we scored the tries we needed to get the bonus points as well. There are aspects of our game we’re pleased with but we’re also well aware we’ll have to take a step up for the game against Japan, who have been excellent so far in the tournament.”

On how Scotland will be coping with the difficult situation thrown up by Saturday’s historic storm, Blair said the group would deal with it as best they could.

“It’s a long tour for us,” said the former Edinburgh player. “The players have done a lot of work and there has been a lot of preparation stuff from game to game as well. In terms of the basics of the game, we’re very happy with what we’ve been doing over the piece.

“Obviously some things change for the game against Japan. We had an excellent training session before coming to Yokohama and we will have a walk-through session here at the hotel. It’s slightly different, but we have had a lot of time together so we’re confident with what we’ve been able to put together so far.”

Meanwhile, star full-back Stuart Hogg made it clear that getting the result Scotland need over Japan and reaching the quarter-finals would be one of the biggest achievements of his career, should the game go ahead and the Scots manage to get the job done.

“I think it would definitely be up there,” said Hogg. “We’ve been in since the start of June working incredibly hard to get to where we want to be and come Sunday we’ve got a chance to let loose and get to a quarter-finals. For myself and a lot of the boys this could be the biggest game of our careers and one we’re very much looking forward to getting stuck into.”

Hogg, who is due to win his 72nd cap, added: “We made it difficult with the way we started this tournament. But we’ve still got a chance going into the last game of making it to the quarter-finals. The mood in camp is positive. We’ve had some good craic on and off the training pitch and all roads now lead to Sunday.

“We’ve had a terrific time in Japan so far. We’ve had a lot of different experiences. You’ll see by Gordy Reid’s Instagram and Twitter posts that he’s enjoying himself!

“But we came here with a job in hand and that was to win Test matches. We’ve got the chance to play against the host nation and it doesn’t get any bigger than that.

“The focus is on that and making sure we do everything we can to take another step forward.”