JAPAN piled the pressure on to Scotland yesterday with a controversial injury-time try which secured a bonus point win over Samoa, which leaves the host nation on 14 points in World Cup Pool A and in an excellent position to qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time.

Scotland must now target a bonus-point win against Russia on Wednesday to reach 10 points, and they must do so with as little fuss as possible given the importance of having fit and fresh bodies available for their do-or-die clash against Japan four days later. It will be no easy task against the surprise package of this World Cup. Russia may be rooted to the foot of Pool A, without so much as a bonus point, but they have already given Japan, Samoa and Ireland a real run for their money this past fortnight and will be desperate to raise themselves one last time to finish on a high.

Assuming the Russia game does go to plan for Gregor Townsend’s men, then a huge game in Yokohama a week today beckons. Everybody who is not Scottish will be supporting Japan –with good reason. They have hosted a fantastic World Cup and it is great for the game when a team from outside the traditional hegemony breaks new ground.

We all recognise that the sport needs to grow beyond its traditional power base, and for that to happen there has to be upward mobility for emerging rugby nations. Japan have been an emerging nation for over four decades, but it feels like they are better placed now than ever before to make the breakthrough.

Even before this World Cup, we had had a flash of the potential of the Brave Blossoms when they made sure the 2015 tournament started with a bang with their opening weekend demolition of South Africa on a glorious afternoon in Brighton. Unfortunately, they did not have the gas to maintain that rip-roaring start. After losing 45-10 to Scotland four days later, they shuffled past Samoa and the USA without managing a bonus-point in either match, and ended up becoming the first team to win three pool games and still miss out on the quarter-finals.

This time it feels different. Their excellent win over Ireland last weekend – which lifted Japan ahead of Scotland into eighth place in the World Rugby rankings – was a more accomplished all-round performance than the triumph of self-belief over established rugby logic we witnessed against South Africa four years ago. With home advantage and a far more forgiving fixture schedule, Jamie Joseph’s men appear to be in a great position to make history.

But, even if they do make it to the last eight, there are still significant social and structural challenges to overcome before Japan can really hope to fulfil their huge potential.

With a population of 126 million [the 10th largest in the world] and a thriving economy, there is no shortage of the raw materials – ie players and money – for rugby to flourish, but anyone who has been in The Land of the Rising Sun these last few weeks will attest that while the tournament has been brilliantly run by gracious hosts, the sport in general is barely scratching the surface when it comes to public engagement. Trying to find a bar, restaurant, cafe or television shop in Osaka showing either the Georgia versus Fiji or the Ireland versus Russia game on Thursday was almost impossible.

A recent poll found baseball is comfortably the most popular spectator sport in Japan [getting the nod from 34.9 per cent of respondents], followed by football [28.5 per cent], skating/figure skating [16.5 per cent], tennis [14.5 per cent] and swimming [11.5 per cent]. Rugby wasn’t even listed in the published results.

It is hoped that this World Cup will start to address that, especially if the host nation is successful.

It was stated at the World Cup launch press conference just over two weeks ago that 1.8 million new participants in Asia have been introduced to rugby during the build-up to this tournament, but local-based journalist Rich Freeman points out that there is a huge difference between youngsters getting a taste of rugby and becoming fully engaged in the sport.

He points out that few high schools have rugby clubs and that the "bukatsu" system (whereby kids between the ages of 12 to 18 focus on one extra-curricular activity all year round) makes it almost impossible to attract teenage converts, meaning there is no age-grade rugby for any kids from 15 years and older until they enter the adult game.

“You wonder how many world-class props Japan is missing out on because all they have ever known is sumo, or second-rows who have only played basketball, or stand-offs with outstanding hand-eye co-ordination who are only interested in baseball,” says Freeman.

Freeman is exasperated by the lack of legacy planning for this World Cup, and fears the Olympics coming to Japan next year will quickly wash away any progress this tournament makes.

He is hopeful that the establishment of a professional league in 2021 can be an important step in the right direction, with regionalised teams setting up academy structures for young players to work their way through – but points out that it is a crying shame that this scheme was only pulled together two months ago, meaning it can’t be tied in with the World Cup.