He was the player of the Six Nations, so the question for Stuart Hogg, as the Scotland team moved their base of operations from Tokyo to Nagoya, where they will play the first of the two Tests against Japan, was whether he can keep it up for another two weeks.
Predictably, Hogg is confident – he is very rarely anything else, but this time with good reason. Not only is he happy with his form and the scores that he both created and ran in during the spring competition, but he feels that after a year of almost non-stop action the four weeks off since the end of the Glasgow Warriors season was precisely timed to refresh his batteries without losing match sharpness.
“The break came at the right time,” he said. “We would rather the season had gone on a bit longer but ahead of the summer tour it is always good to get a little break, refresh the mind and go again. It is another challenge for us to get the two victories so I guess it all came at the right time.
“For me, I played in a very good Scotland side during the World Cup and Six Nations and our gameplan was brilliant – to try to play the game at high tempo, getting the backs, and the back three in particular, into the game.
“There were a lot of opportunities to get the ball in hand, which is exactly what we want as backs. Thankfully, we finished off some good scores and got two good victories as well. We just have to try to build on that and get excited about the challenges ahead.”
Like all the Scotland squad in Japan he has a good idea what to expect from the hosts after having faced them only nine months ago in the Rugby World Cup, when Scotland struggled for an hour before breaking clear in the final quarter to win 45-10.
“Japan were a fantastic defensive side in the World Cup. It was a bit frustrating at times but they had a solid defence that we had to work hard to score points against,” he said. “They all tackled very, very low. It seemed to be right across the squad though there were also a couple of big hitters. I guess we’ll just have to try to avoid them.
“We have analysed them and we know, they don’t kick a lot. That means we have to be spot-on in our defence to force them to kick. It might be frustrating at times, not getting the ball in hand, but when the chance comes I have to be able to read the situation and not be selfish.
“Here’s hoping our defence is on point and they do have to kick the ball. It is going to take a lot to break them down. I will just have to wait patiently, I think.”
Having said which, he also reckons that Scotland are a better team than the one that came within a couple of minutes of reaching the World Cup semi-finals. Consistent selection and a pattern of play that the players can buy into have helped bring even more out of the team.
“I believe we are coming on leaps and bounds,” he said. “We have worked incredibly hard from pretty much this time last year, the World Cup and the Six Nations. I do believe we are always improving.
“There is a lot of hard work which goes on behind the scenes and it is always a pleasure to be part of this Scotland side. We are here to work hard, get victories and enjoy ourselves while we are here.
“Japan are improving as well, though. They have some fantastic individual players and collectively they are very strong as well, so it is going to be a massive test for us this weekend – but one the boys are ready for and excited by.”