Gregor Townsend laughed when he heard opposite number Jamie Joseph claiming Japan were more driven and seeking history while Scotland were just seeking to avoid embarrassment if Sunday’s big Rugby World Cup clash is played in Yokohama.
An angry Joseph was irked at “suggestions” the Japanese were seeking to avoid the clash to gain an easy access to the quarter-finals, although the Scots have never indicated any such thing and been effusive in praise of their hosts.
“I had a good laugh,” he said, having read Joseph’s comments. “You may know coaches sometimes use press conferences to put messages and to get a response.
“Sometimes you don’t get the response you expect.”
In the meantime, Townsend had one surprise in dropping squad captain Stuart McInally to the bench for the meeting with the Japanese, and restoring Greig Laidlaw. Otherwise he largely re-instated the team that won against Samoa, only with Tommy Seymour replacing groin-injury victim Sean Maitland.
Townsend’s decision is part tactical with Fraser Brown thought to be a slightly better fit for Japan’s all-action, high-tempo style, but reflects that McInally hasn’t really recovered from the 27-3 defeat to Ireland in the first game.
And Scotland have a readymade replacement as skipper in “Mr Grieg” Laidlaw, Japan’s favourite Scotland player.
“I am very confident the captain we have picked will do an excellent job,” said Townsend. “Greig has captained Scotland more than any other player in our history.
“I’m also very confident in the leadership group that will support Greig and support Stuart if he has to captain the team at some point. Our leadership group have done a very good job on and off the field in the last few weeks.
“The captain’s role within a game – yes it’s important you speak to the referee and you maybe have the last word in huddles but there’s a number of other leaders we want to see talking and leading the team at the weekend. They’ve done that really well in the last two games.”
Townsend isn’t invoking an “us against the world” mentality given the difficulties surrounding the typhoon and the possibility Scotland may be out of the competition without firing a shot on Sunday.
“No, it’ll be a sense of us against 70,000 people. When you play Japan in the World Cup here, you are the away team, all the other games are neutral,” he said.
“We know we are going into an atmosphere that will be very passionate for the opposition and we have to play as well as we can to win that game.
“They will get energy from the crowd – we’ve got to take away that energy.”
Scotland have had extreme difficulty in away matches in recent times but Townsend said “the next game is always the acid test.
“We played two away games in the last two months, the first one in Nice did not go so well, the second in Georgia went better, and this third one needs to go even better.
“The way we approached the game in Georgia is how we planned it, take the crowd out of the game with a strong start. We will need clear heads among all the noise, and we need to put huge effort into the performance.”
Scotland will heed the advice to stay indoors tomorrow, not having the customary captain’s run at the stadium but instead having a “walkthrough” of moves and lineout drills in the ballroom of their hotel in Yokohama.
“Our normal pre-game team run is about priming players for the following day’s game, playing with energy, running through some plays, passing over the game plan to the players,” he said.
“We won’t be able to do that tomorrow, but we see the players leading in our meetings, and we’ll find a room in here we can walk or jog around in.”
“We just have to assure the players the game will go ahead and we will prepare for it. It’s likely we will be in hotel all day tomorrow, but the players are focused on playing on Sunday evening.
“Nothing we can do differently with the players apart from assuring them that they will play on Sunday night.”
Team: Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs); Tommy Seymour (Glasgow), Chris Harris (Newcastle), Sam Johnson (Glasgow), Darcy Graham (Edinburgh); Finn Russell (Racing 92), Grieg Laidlaw (Clermont-Auvergne, capt); Allan Dell (Edinburgh), Fraser Brown (Glasgow), WP Nel (Edinburgh); Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Jonny Gray (Glasgow); Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Blade Thomson (Scarlets).
Replacements: Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Gordon Reid (Ayrshire Bulls), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow), Scott Cummings (Glasgow), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow), George Horne (Glasgow, Peter Horne (Glasgow), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh).