Scotland’s biggest threat at the Rugby World Cup won’t be Ireland, at least not according to Eddie Jones.
Jones believes his former team – Japan – will be targetting Scotland at the tournament. Hosts Japan, who will be hoping to reach the last eight at a World Cup for the first time, have been drawn in Pool A with Ireland, Scotland, Russia and Samoa.
Ireland are favourites to finish as group leaders. However, the second place spot will be hotly contested. Former Japan coach and current England boss Jones believes the Brave Blossoms’ biggest test will come against Scotland.
The two teams also met at the last World Cup in England, which Scotland won 45-10.
However, Japan left a lasting impression when they recorded three wins in that 2015 tournament, including one of the biggest upsets when they beat South Africa 34-32 in their opening pool game.
Another big scalp is needed at the 2019 World Cup if Japan are to qualify for the knockout stages.
“They’re going to have to beat Scotland. Scotland’s a strong team. But as we showed in 2015, anything’s possible,” Jones told Kyodo News.
And Jones has some tips for his former team.
“You’ve got to play a looser style,” Jones said. “They [Scotland] try to break the game up. They want the game to be more unstructured, so it will suit Japan more, but again, they [Scotland] have got a very good team. Good backs, good back row. Their set piece is outstanding.”
Beating Scotland will be a tough task for Japan, but Japan will go into the World Cup with a big advantage says Jones.
“Japan’s challenge will be preparing to beat Scotland. [But] you’ve got to look at the advantages Japan has – apart from Argentina, they’re the only international team that have all their players together as a group, and they play Super Rugby together, so they have time. And that’s a big advantage.”
Japan showed what they are capable of when they faced England at Twickenham in November.
Japan were on their way to causing a massive upset, but they ran out of gas towards the end of the match and they eventually lost 15-35.
“Japan is a good tough team, probably a much stronger team than the one I coached. [Japan coach] Jamie [Joseph] and [Sunwolves coach] Tony Brown are doing a great job. They’re a lot bigger physically than I’ve seen a Japan team,” Jones said.
“Their defence was impressive [against England], good line speed, worked hard for the 80 minutes. They attacked with a lot of creativity. I thought (Michael) Leitch played exceptionally well. There are some good young players, (Atsushi) Sakate, Koo (Ji Won), (Kazuki) Himeno — very impressive.”
Watch the Heineken Champions Cup Final live on RugbyPass throughout Asia and Australia.