Scotland boss Townsend revamps pack for Japan

·3-min read
Japan changes - Scotland coach Gregor Townsend (AFP/Geoff Caddick)

Gregor Townsend has made seven changes to his side, with five of those in the forward pack, for Scotland's concluding Autumn Nations Series match against Japan at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Scotland are looking to return to winning ways after last week's 30-15 defeat by world champions South Africa.

This will be Scotland's first match against 2019 World Cup hosts Japan since the Brave Blossoms knocked them out of the global showpiece with a 28-21 pool win in Yokohama.

"We have had a positive week as a squad and want to close out our Autumn Nations Series campaign with an improved performance against a Japan side we expect to challenge us from the outset on Saturday," said Scotland coach Townsend.

In a new-look back-row Josh Bayliss makes his first start for Scotland at No 8 after his debut off the bench in a victory against Australia two weeks ago. Edinburgh flankers Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson resume their blindside and openside positions from the Wallabies win.

Glasgow prop Jamie Bhatti earns his first Scotland start since August 2019 when he lined up against France in a World Cup warm-up match.

He is joined in the front row by club-mate George Turner who has recovered from an injury sustained against Australia to pack down at hooker.

An all-Glasgow front row is completed by Zander Fagerson at tight-head.

Scotland are looking to make it three wins out of four in the end-of-year campaign, having started with a 60-14 thrashing of Tonga before seeing off Australia 15-13 prior to their defeat by the Springboks.

Japan lost 32-23 at home to Australia in October before suffering a 60-5 defeat by Ireland in their European tour opener. Last week, they defeated Portugal, a second-string rugby nation, 38-25.

- 'Improved Scotland' -

The Brave Blossoms will be captained at Murrayfield by Pieter Labuschagne, who was rested against Portugal.

Shogo Nakano, who scored on his debut against Portugal, has been named at outside centre, while Shinnosuke Kakinaga returns to the matchday 23 for the first time since 2016, being named as reserve prop.

"Scotland have really improved since we last played them at the World Cup," said Japan coach Jamie Joseph.

"Their players who were quite young during the World Cup are now senior members of their team and they have changed their game a lot. They're quite keen to run the ball, which is the way forward."

The New Zealander added: "We're expecting a big contest in the loose forwards, where Scotland have shown a lot of improvement. Their back row are strong in defence and at the breakdown, and are very good at 'jackalling' and slowing the ball down.

"But we have an experienced back row in (Michael) Leitch, Lappies (Labuschagne) and (Kazuki) Himeno, so it's going to be a big part of the match."

Scotland (15-1)

Stuart Hogg (capt); Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell, Ali Price; Josh Bayliss, Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie, Grant Gilchrist, Scott Cummings, Zander Fagerson, George Turner, Jamie Bhatti

Replacements: Stuart McInally, Pierre Schoeman, Javan Sebastian, Sam Skinner, Dylan Richardson, Matt Fagerson, George Horne, Blair Kinghorn

Coach: Gregor Townsend (SCO)

Japan (15-1)

Ryohei Yamanaka; Kotaro Matsushima, Shogo Nakano, Ryoto Nakamura, Siosaia Fifita; Rikiya Matsuda, Yutaka Nagare; Kazuki Himeno, Pieter Labuschagne (capt), Michael Leitch, James Moore, Jack Cornelsen, Asaeli Ai, Atsushi Sakate, Craig Millar

Replacements: Kosuke Horikoshi, Keita Inagaki, Shinnosuke Karinaga, Ben Gunter, Tevita Tatafu, Naoto Saito, Yu Tamura, Dylan Riley

Coach: Jamie Joseph (NZL)

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