Japan and Scotland are both hoping to end their seasons in style Saturday by putting on a performance worthy of the occasion.
The two sides will battle it out in front of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko at the stadium that will host the opening game of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
And with world ranking points at stake ahead of next year’s draw for the tournament, it couldn’t be a bigger game.
“It’s a real honor to be playing in front of the emperor,” Japan captain Shota Horie said Friday following his side’s final training run at Ajinomoto Stadium.
It was a feeling echoed by the Scottish camp.
“We are really excited that we are going to be playing in front of (the emperor) and understand, talking to the Japanese people and liaison officers, that it is a real big deal that he is coming to the game,” said assistant coach Matt Taylor.
“We understand how motivated the Japan team will be and we have spoken about how up for the game we need to be because of this.”
The presence of the imperial couple and the possibility of Japan getting revenge for its only loss at last year’s World Cup should bring in a big crowd, despite the predicted rain.
And the Brave Blossoms are hoping the crowd will help them rise to the occasion.
“There is a real belief we can do it,” said wing Male Sa’u, who returns to the Japan side following injury. “If we can believe in our structures and in ourselves, then I know we are up for it.”
And history backs that up.
In 2014, Japan was hammered in the first game of a two-match series against the Maori All Blacks, only to bounce back and lose the second to a last-minute try.
A year earlier, it had gone one better, losing to Wales narrowly before going on to beat it in the second test.
Japan interim coach Mark Hammett is under no illusions how to turn around last week’s 26-13 defeat to Scotland.
“Discipline is the big one,” he said. “The two tries they (Scotland) scored last week were when we were down to 13 men. It doesn’t matter what level you play, you need to keep men on the paddock.”
Hammett said his side needed to adapt better to the referee’s decisions and continue to match the Scots at the set piece.
“Athletically we can match them,” he said. “The Scots have a good set piece but last week we worked hard to match them and while there wasn’t parity we were able to play our game.”
That high-paced game forced the visitors to do far more running than they are used to.
“Part of our improvement is to make sure we are quicker to the rucks in attack,” said Taylor. “Certainly there were a number of times when we were turned over and we need to be quicker there and a wee bit more accurate.”
The general feeling is the predicted rain will favor the Scots.
“The Scottish players are used to playing in wet weather so I feel we could adapt pretty well,” said Taylor.
But with the rain comes humidity.
“The hotter the better,” said Hammett, when asked what he hoped Mother Nature would bring. “We are used to playing in the summer. The Scots aren’t.”
With the Scots looking to cut down their errors and probably play more of a kicking game, and the hosts looking to run them off the park, it should make for a fascinating game for the imperial couple.