For some players the news that they have been selected for the matchday squad to face Russia in Shizuoka next Wednesday will be greeted with joy at the chance to get a taste of this World Cup, while for some it may come with a nagging thought it means that’s them out of the picture for the big one against Japan a week on Sunday.
Squad management is at the forefront of Gregor Townsend and his coaching team’s minds this week as they prepare for the Russians and then the Japanese in the space of five days but 44-cap veteran hooker Fraser Brown has no hesitation in wanting as much involvement as possible after a frustrating lead-up.
The 30-year-old Glasgow Warriors forward had surgery on his left foot after an injury picked up in the Guinness Pro14 final at Celtic Park and travelled to Japan without a game to his name since that afternoon in May.
He has since featured off the bench against both Ireland and Samoa and is hungry for more minutes, whether it be at hooker or in his old back-row stamping ground.
“I’m really happy to have been involved in the last two games. Obviously, after my summer which was a little bit disrupted as opposed to everyone else’s, it was just a real positive thing for me to fit to play against Ireland and then again at the weekend,” said Brown in Kobe today.
“I’ll be hoping to get a little bit more game time next week.”
Just a few minutes after Brown had replaced skipper Stuart McInally in the 34-0 win over Samoa on Monday, he was frustrated to be denied a fourth Test try when Scotland’s maul was illegally stopped.
A penalty try was the consolation and another six minutes from the end got Scotland the five points they needed to kickstart their campaign.
Against Russia a bonus point won’t be a hope but an expectation. The mantra coming out of the camp is always that getting the win is the first priority, then you worry about bonus points, but given Scotland’s precarious position following the 27-3 loss to Ireland and then Japan putting the cat amongst the pigeons with their shock win over Joe Schmidt’s side, Brown confessed that it had been discussed before the Samoa game.
“After the Japan-Ireland game, if you didn’t talk about it then you’re not preparing properly,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean going out and chasing it from the word go. Against Samoa it was 3-0 after 29 minutes, so if you look at that on its own you are probably thinking that it hasn’t been a great game, but if you actually look at how it went we were in control a lot of the time, we played in the right areas and really tired out the Samoans, and then we were good enough to execute when the spaces started to open up.”
Brown expressed his belief that 31-man squads were not big enough in rugby’s intensely physical modern age but he has no complaints about Scotland having to face Japan with just four days break after Russia.
“It’s fair, because it’s part of the competition,” he said. “We can’t say it’s not fair because it’s us, and four years ago or last week someone else had it so it doesn’t bother you. It’s the way the tournament is.
“There’s five-day turnarounds back home in the league, between league games and European games. You just have to deal with it. Rugby is really physically demanding on people’s bodies but we’re all professionals and we’ve got a huge team of guys working behind the scenes to make sure everything’s right with recovery, to nutrition, to how we train.
“They’ve been planning this not just for the last four weeks, they’ve been planning for a year-and-a-half. They have all those things in place. For us we have to go out and get a result against Russia and once that happens it’s about how quick we can recover for the Japan game.”
Scotland are confident they can do the job and make the quarter-finals from here but Brown insists the tight turnaround won’t be used as an excuse if they fall short.
“It’ll be difficult, you can’t hide away from the fact it’s difficult to play two Test matches in four-five days,” he said.
“There will be tired guys that will probably play in both games, whether they start both or come off the bench. But we’ve known this for a long time, you’ve got to get your head round it. It will be something some haven’t experienced before but it is what it is. Get on with it, get your head in it, get ready for Russia and as soon as that game against Russia is finished get prepared properly in the time we have for Japan.”
The bookies have Scotland as slight odds-on favourites to simply beat Japan in Yokohama a week on Sunday, although as we all now know a straight win may not be enough if the Brave Blossoms pick up losing and/or try bonuses.
“I don’t have a clue about bookies it’s something that’s always escaped me,” said Brown with a smile.
“I don’t know, we’ve got a job to do against Russia first. Japan were obviously really impressive in the game against Ireland. It’s going to be a tight game, it’s going to be a high pressure game and if results go both teams’ way whoever wins that game will go through whether wins that game will go through either on points or the head to head.
“For us it’ll be a high pressure game but it’ll be pressure for them as the host nation. I don’t know if there’s any favourites, it’ll be about who deals with the pressure and I don’t think you can put that down to odds.”
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