Japan v Scotland: Home players honoured by Emperor Akihito visit

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Japan captain Shota Horie scored a try in the opening match with Scotland
Horie scored Japan's try in last weekend's 26-13 loss to Scotland
Summer Test: Japan v Scotland
Date: Saturday, 25 June Venue: Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo Kick-off: 11:20 BST
Coverage: Watch on BBC Two Scotland and BBC Sport website

Japan might have halted trading on the pound on Friday in Brexit's wake, but there's no doubting their yen for victory on Saturday when the national team face Scotland in the second and final Test in Tokyo.

This is going to be quite a big deal at the Ajinomoto Stadium in western Tokyo, the venue for the opening ceremony and first match of the 2019 Rugby World Cup while also serving as an evacuation centre for survivors of the great disaster that was the 2011 Tokohu earthquake and Tsunami.

For the first time ever, the Japanese team will be watched by the Imperial Couple. Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will attend the Test, their presence sending something of a frisson through the home team on Friday.

Shota Horie, the experienced Japan captain, said it was a "very great honour" to have the Emperor watching the team play.

"We'd like to get a result in front of him," said the hooker.

In the mixed zone at the stadium, his team-mates said the same. The words "honour" and "privilege" were mentioned repeatedly.

Akihito, 82, acceded the throne in 1989 and is the eldest son of Emperor Showa [or Hirohito as we would know him].

He's also the nephew of Prince Chichibu, who was a hugely important figure in the development of rugby in Japan. A city centre stadium, the headquarters of the Japanese Rugby Union and Rugby World Cup 2019, is named after him.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will be watching Scotland on Saturday

"As well as the Emperor, we're expecting the largest crowd we've ever had watching Japan in Japan," said Mark Hammett, their interim coach.

As of Friday morning, 25,000 tickets had been sold with expectations of a walk-up figure of another 5,000.

The Ajinomoto has a covered-up running track, a tight pitch with short in-goals and vast spaces beyond both ends and both sides. It's an impressive sight even if the pitch seems like it's in another prefecture when sitting in the stand.

Hammett spoke about Japan's disciplinary record in the first Test and certain frustrations he felt. His team had two players sin-binned - correct decisions that cost Japan 14 points - and gave away 15 penalties.

Hammett reckoned that at least seven of them were dubious. As a consequence he said that if Japan's discipline holds and their penalty count is reduced, they have a big chance of causing an upset.

This will be Scotland's 16th Test match of the season, going back to the first of the four pre-World Cup warm-up matches against Ireland last August. Matt Taylor, Scotland's defence coach, also spoke of the Emperor and the motivation his presence might give the hosts.

"We're really excited that we're going to be playing in front of him and we understand, talking to the Japanese people and liaison officers, that it's a really big deal that he's coming to the game," he said.

"We understand how motivated the Japan team will be and we have spoken about how up for the game we need to be because of this."