Kelly Brown will be looking to outwit a Saracens club-mate when captaining Scotland for the tenth time in the opening viagogo Autumn Test against Japan at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Drafted into the Japanese backroom team is the English outfit’s second row Steve Borthwick, pictured below, who has been charged with improving their line-out.
Brown says: “I travelled up on Sunday on the same plane as Steve and he was trying to pick my brains about what our team was going to be.
“I wasn’t giving much away and he has been very coy, also.
“But we have been sounding each other out and so far as Japan are concerned they’ll be looking to get a bit more balance to their game. They have a good running game, a good set piece and they are looking to improve their kicking.”
Borthwick, pictured, an England internationalist, has become attached to the Japanese through their regular coach Eddie Jones who, although missing the current tour through illness, was previously at Saracens.
Dressing-room bragging rights will be at stake back at Sarries, but Brown is much more concerned about the momentum he feels began developing with Scotland last season. Back-to-back wins over Italy and Ireland in the Six Nations ended a four-match losing streak and while the summer tour of South Africa produced just one victory from three, the number of players introduced to Test rugby on the tour provided the captain with cause for optimism.
Brown may have been injured in the first tour Test – he only returned from ankle damage in September – but he said: “I think the tour was great. It was a very important step for us to improve as a side. Ten new caps were blooded, which was great.
“Now, if you look right through the squad, there is real competition for places.”
Scotland can use this weekend’s Test as an opportunity to put down a marker ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
The two teams are drawn in the same pool – as are next opponents, South Africa – and the significance is not lost on Brown.
“There’s no doubt Japan being in the same group will be in the back of our minds, but all we can do is focus on the game in hand,” he said.
While Scotland have been inactive since the summer, Japan have arrived in Edinburgh fresh from tackling the All Blacks in Tokyo. Brown added: “We have been watching a lot of Japan’s games over the summer and they are a very, very good side. They beat Wales and although it wasn’t a first-choice Wales side due to Lions selections, it was still a strong side.
“There’s no doubt we need to be on our mettle on Saturday.
“It will be very fast and they look like a side who want to play, who want to throw the ball about.”
Meantime, the Melrose-reared Brown, who played for the now-defunct Border Reivers and Glasgow before heading south, will join an elite group whose captaincy of Scotland is in double figures (see below). “It isn’t about me – it is about the team and making sure we keep improving,” says Brown, who is more fulsome when discussing the qualities that a Murrayfield international crowd will see for the first time should centre Duncan Taylor get the call from off the bench for a third cap this weekend.
“Duncan Taylor is a great player,” he continued. “He got a bit of time in the summer with Scotland and has been starting almost every week for Sarries. He’s been man of the match in one or two games, too.
“Duncan is a big guy who is fast. I think Scottish supporters are going to enjoy seeing him play.”
Players who have captained Scotland ten times or more (win ratio in brackets):
25: David Sole (56.0%)
21: Bryan Redpath (47.61%)
20: Gavin Hastings (47.50%)
19: Jason White (47.36%), Ian McLauchlan (52.63%)
16: Rob Wainwright (28.12%)
15: Andy Irvine (50.0%), Mark Morrison (63.33%), Arthur Smith (43.33%)
14: Gary Armstrong (50.0%), Mike Blair (28.57%)
13: Colin Deans (65.38%), Chris Paterson (23.07%)
12: Phil MacPherson (62.5%)
11: Dan Drysdale (72.72%), Gordon Bulloch (27.27%)
10: Al Kellock (50%), Peter Brown (40%), Jim Telfer (30%)