TOKYO, Oct 12 ― An angry war of words between Japan and Scotland has injected an element of needle into tomorrow's typhoon-threatened Rugby World Cup clash in Yokohama.
Furious at threats of a formal Scottish protest if the crunch Pool A clash is cancelled, Japan coach Jamie Joseph felt the hosts had been disrespected, fuming that talk of legal action “undermined the achievements” of his side.
His opposite number, Gregor Townsend, hit back by saying he “had a good laugh” at the former All Black's comments, which were made with the help of prepared notes before he named his Japan side.
“I'd like to remind everybody it hasn't been a fluke,” growled Joseph, referring to Japan's perfect record after three pool fixtures.
“Everyone in our squad wants to play the Test match,” he added, before the biggest game in Japanese rugby history.
“It's important for us to wake up on Monday morning and understand we are a worthy top-eight team.”
But Scottish Rugby Union chief executive Mark Dodson insisted Scotland would not become “collateral damage” from a violent typhoon that wiped out England v Italy and New Zealand v Italy today for safety reasons.
Dodson called on World Cup organisers to take a “common-sense approach” by moving Sunday's game to Monday if necessary, rather than sticking to the protocol of calling it off and declaring the result a 0-0 draw.
Townsend, meanwhile, accused Joseph of trying to “put messages out” as the build-up to a match that Joseph predicted would be a “real ripper” turned into tit-for-tat verbal sparring.
Given the bad blood, and how much is at stake, it would be little surprise to see tempers boil over if the match goes ahead.
Japan are looking to avenge a 45-10 defeat by Scotland at the 2015 World Cup that cost them a quarter-final spot, despite three wins including a 34-32 shock over South Africa.
After beating Russia 30-10, stunning Ireland 19-12 and thrashing Samoa 38-19, the Brave Blossoms are on the brink of history once again and Joseph expects a bruising encounter.
“We know we're playing a very good rugby team, Scotland have got a lot of X-factor,” he said.
“It's a team Japan has never beaten before but we're top of the table with an opportunity to win the pool,” added Joseph, who has handed back the game captaincy to talismanic flanker Michael Leitch.
“We expect a lot of aerial pressure and big physical pressure around the maul, but we have to stick with what we do well.”
Leitch has demanded Japan's players step up.
“Having courage is the most important thing,” he said. “Not chickening out when faced with pressure. We have to face up to it.”
Scotland have bounced back from a 27-3 drubbing by Ireland in their opening game to smash Samoa 34-0 and Russia 61-0.
But a Japanese side that left Ireland seeing stars brings a different set of challenges.
“We know it wouldn't be an embarrassment to lose to Japan,” said Townsend, striking a more conciliatory tone.
“We know they are an excellent side and we will have to play very well to win.” ― AFP