By Jack Tarrant
YOKOHAMA (Reuters) – Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has reinstated scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw as his captain for their do-or-die World Cup Pool A clash with hosts Japan on Sunday, which might not go ahead due to an impending typhoon.
Stuart McInally, who skippered the team in their first two games, was left on the bench and was replaced at hooker by Fraser Brown in one of 12 changes made by Townsend for the must-win match from the second-string side who beat Russia on Wednesday.
Although the Japan match may be cancelled due to the impact of Typhoon Hagibis [L5N26W1PC], Scotland are trying to get ready for the encounter as normal and Townsend wants the experienced Laidlaw to lead the team through the unprecedented preparation.
The form of Brown, who has impressed in Scotland’s wins over Russia and Samoa, was also a key factor in Townsend’s decision.
“(McInally is) not in his best form,” said Townsend in Yokohama on Friday.
“He was much better in the Samoa game compared to the Ireland game and there are a number of players that didn’t perform in the Ireland game.
“Fraser has been excellent as soon as he came back from injury.”
“We have seen Stuart improving in training and in the two games he played so we believe he can have a real impact in the second half.”
Laidlaw, who has made 73 appearances for his country and captained Scotland on four previous occasions at a World Cup, is happy to take on the responsibility.
“I am probably the most experienced player within the team,” he said.
“It is a big game so I am more than happy to take on the responsibility but effectively it changes nothing.
“We have a test match to win and that is what we are all concentrating on.”
Sean Maitland lost his battle to be fit for the match, meaning Tommy Seymour and Darcy Graham start on the wings with Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell looking to bring further experience and guile into the team.
If Scotland beat Japan by eight points or more, then they will qualify for the quarter-finals.
They have only failed to make it out of the pool stages once previously at a World Cup, in 2011.
“This is a game that I think a lot of people are looking forward to,” said Townsend.
“We have talked about it being one of those rare occasions where you get to play in a game which is a straight shootout for the quarter-finals, obviously with the proviso that we score more than seven points more than Japan, against the home nation, against a team that is playing really well.”
“It is a game you dream to be involved in.”
Team: 15-Stuart Hogg, 14-Tommy Seymour, 13-Chris Harris, 12-Sam Johnson, 11-Darcy Graham, 10-Finn Russell, 9-Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8-Blade Thomson, 7-Jamie Ritchie, 6-Magnus Bradbury, 5-Jonny Gray, 4-Grant Gilchrist, 3-Willem Nel, 2-Fraser Brown, 1-Allan Dell
Replacements: 16-Stuart McInally, 17-Gordon Reid, 18-Zander Fagerson, 19-Scott Cummings, 20-Ryan Wilson, 21-George Horne,
22-Peter Horne, 23-Blair Kinghorn
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Toyota City; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Toby Davis)