Steve Borthwick relishing his role in Land of the Rising Scrum

Former England captain helping Japan improve as they look ahead to hosting the World Cup in 2019

In the mist shrouding Peffermill Playing Fields on the south-east side of Edinburgh, sandwiched in between a Honda garage and the Nairn oatcake factory, it was difficult to pick out the two sets of forwards packing down against each other on the far side of the main pitch. As the sun started to shine through, one of the coaches overseeing the morning toil became familiarly clear.

There was a time when Steve Borthwick had the red rose emblem firmly pressed against his left breast. "That feels like a long time ago," the former England captain remarked, three years on from the last of the 57 caps he collected over a nine year period. These days, when international windows release him from Saracens playing duty, the veteran lock can be found sporting the Cherry Blossom tracksuit badge.

While Stuart Lancaster, Chris Robshaw and co go about the business of preparing England for a home World Cup the year after next, Borthwick – as part-time lineout coach – is helping Japan lay the foundations for what will be a groundbreaking staging of the global extravaganza.

The 2019 Rugby World Cup will be the first time the tournament has been held outside one of the established top-tier nations. And, six years out, the signs are looking good. There is every indication that Japan has become the Land of the Rising Scrum.

True, the Brave Blossoms did wilt under a half century of All Black points in Tokyo last weekend (they lost 54-6) but then Scotland shipped 51 points against the reigning world champions at Murrayfield 12 months ago and Ireland were humped 60-0 in Hamilton last year. Against the more mortal members of the international scene, Japan are not the pushovers they once were.

The last time they played Scotland, at McDiarmid Park in Perth back in 2004, they were thrashed by a full century, 100-8. Nine years on, as they prepare to open their 2013 European tour against the Scots at Murrayfield tomorrow, they are seeking to build on the platform of a momentous 23-8 victory against Wales in Tokyo in June. Admittedly, the reigning European champions were without their Lions players that day but they still had the likes of Dan Biggar and Bradley Davies in their ranks –and Lou Reed, the Cardiff Blues lock.

It was a day of perfection for Eddie Jones, the man who has masterminded the rise of the Japanese national team in his two years as head coach. Thankfully, the wily Aussie, who guided the Wallabies to a home World Cup final in 2003, is recovering from the mild stroke that he suffered a month ago. He has handed over head coach duties to Scott Wisemantel for the duration of the European tour – which continues against Gloucester at Kingsholm next Tuesday, Russia in neutral Colwyn Bay three days later and Spain in Madrid on 23 September – but intends to pick up the reins thereafter.

"I think what Eddie is building with this team is really exciting for Japan's future," said Borthwick, sporting nasal stitches from his part in the 40-3 home win that kept Sarries top of the Aviva Premiership pile last Sunday. "He signed me for Saracens from Bath in 2007 and he's the reason why I'm helping out. He's a phenomenal coach. The opportunity to learn under him on the coaching side was something I jumped at.

"I was involved in the summer, during the period of the win against Wales, and that result was a sign of how the team is developing. I see people who are incredibly passionate about rugby and who work very, very hard. There are a lot of talented guys in this group too."

That much has become clear over the course of Jones' tenure – which has also yielded wins against Georgia, Romania, Canada and the USA and a clean sweep of this year's Asian Five Nations' Championship. Jones' mother hails from the Land of the Rising Sun and, upon his appointment, he dispensed with the policy of naturalising overseas-born players that hallmarked John Kirwan's reign (only a handful remain) in favour of developing home grown talent with dynamic native Japanese qualities.

Scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka has become the first Japanese player to play Super Rugby, vying for the No 9 shirt at the Highlanders with All Black Aaron Smith. Hooker Shota Horie has followed in his footsteps, cementing the No 2 jersey at the Melbourne Rebels.

The profile of the sport in Japan is steadily rising ahead of the 2019 World Cup. The country has 48,470 senior male players, compared to 13,873 in Scotland. The popularity of the university and the industry-backed club game is third only to baseball and football. Tickets for last weekend's All Blacks game sold out in less than an hour.

With another Sarries old boy, former scrum-half-cum-full back Kensuke Iwabuchi, as general manager, the Japanese Rugby Football Union is using the home World Cup to develop the game beyond its borders. Backed by the Japanese government, the JRFU has launched a 'Scrum' project to popularise the game throughout the Asian continent.

"It is not just about our nation," said Tatsuzo Yabe, chairman of the JRFU. "It will be a World Cup for the whole of Asia. We have a huge responsibility to contribute to the growth of rugby in Asia. It's out aim to leave a lasting legacy long after the tournament has finished."

News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower