Japan v Scotland: Under-strength hosts seek 'huge' victory

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland in Japan
Japan beat Canada in Vancouver last weekend
Japan beat Canada 26-22 in Vancouver last weekend
Japan v Scotland
Venue: Toyota City Stadium, Toyota Date: Saturday 18 June Kick-off: 11:20 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Two Scotland, the BBC Sport website and app.

Mark Hammett, the interim Japan coach, knows all about beating Scotland having played against them three times for the All Blacks, winning all three to the tune of 147 points to 52 and 23 tries to six.

The former hooker won his 29 caps in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He played with some of the all-time greats of New Zealand rugby - Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen, Jeff Wilson, Tana Umaga - and speaks with a straight-up Kiwi candour.

While Jonathan Humphreys, Scotland's forwards coach, declined to accept that Scotland are strong favourites to win the opening Test against Hammett's team on Saturday at the Toyota Stadium - the bookmakers have the visitors at an almost insurmountable 1-14 - Hammett laid it on the line.

"There's no doubt that the Scots are the favourites," he said.

"If we were to beat Scotland it would be huge. They're on an upward trend and have generally held their team intact. The reality is that they're favourites and that's our challenge."

Hammett was backed-up by his oldest on-field stager, the wondrous 38-year old lock, Hitoshi Ono, who will win his 97th cap against Scotland. Ono was asked where would a Japan win rate among all the wins in his career dating back to his debut a dozen years ago.

He smiled and said that it would be better than the first time he played against Scotland - a 100-8 loss in Perth in 2004 where his opposite number was Nathan Hines, now on Vern Cotter's coaching ticket.

To Ono, nothing will ever match Japan's win over South Africa at the World Cup last autumn and their victory over Warren Gatland's championship-winning Welsh team in the summer of 2013 comes second.

A triumph against Cotter's team would come third in Ono's all-time list.

Scotland team huddle during the captain's run in Japan
Scotland open their two-Test tour at the Toyota Stadium on Saturday

Like Hammett, he says that Scotland are favourites but 1-14 seems like an insult to the home team, a slight they might use to their advantage in front of their own people.

Japan are missing seven of their starting line-up from that famous day against the Springboks, hence the eye-watering odds against them winning. Humphreys was not buying into the notion as Scotland as runaway favourites, though.

"We're a team that want to win Test matches," he said. "We've had a lot of time when we've not done that, so every game we play has a real focus.

"We're getting harder on ourselves as a group about those standards, so hopefully that will be the case at the weekend.

"The impressive thing about Japan is the quality they're producing. They've a few missing but the boys coming in seem equally adept. They are playing the same game and are producing the same threats. We're well aware of how this game is going to go and how it is going to be - a very, very tight affair."

In Test - and non-Test - internationals - the countries have met nine times since 1976, Scotland winning eight with an average points total of 48 and Japan winning one with an average points total of 13.

For all Scotland's favouritism, it's hard to see a continuation of those numbers. Humphreys, for one, would take any kind of win; smooth or rough.