SCOTLAND coach Vern Cotter believes Japan will gladly lose to South Africa in their opening match at the Rugby World Cup – then throw all their energy into trying to beat his own team in their next game four days later.

The clash between Scotland and Samoa has been widely seen as the crucial fixture in Pool B: the one most likely to decide which teams go into the knockout stages.

But Cotter believes his players cannot afford to presume they will win their first two group games – against Japan in Gloucester on September 23, and then against the United States in Leeds four days later.

Speaking at the Scotland squad’s camp in the Pyrenees, where the players have been on exercises with French commandos, Cotter warned that his men have to be prepared for some tough times in training to give themselves the best chance of beating the Japanese and the Americans.

If they do beat both those countries and go on to lose to group favourites South Africa, only then will Scotland have the chance to claim a place in the quarter-finals by defeating Samoa.

“We have to think about what Japan are doing now,” Cotter said. “The Americans won't be far away in the amount of work they’re doing, and we have to do the same. We've got to be pushing ourselves. We can't become comfortable.

“Japan have openly said that they’re targeting us. They play South Africa first and they’ll probably throw that game away and look at us.

“So we can’t make any errors there: there’s no complacency whatsoever. It will be so important to focus on that one. The first two games will be critical.”

Before those matches, Scotland will have four warm-up games to get through – against France in Paris, Ireland in Dublin and home and away against Italy.

Those fixtures were agreed by Scottish Rugby before Cotter took over as coach, and the New Zealander knows that he can do little more than keep his fingers crossed and hope his team do not pick up too many injuries just weeks out from the start of the World Cup.

“I always worry about that type of thing, but in saying that, it’s an opportunity for players to showcase their improvements and express themselves after a hard pre-season,” he said.

“There will be players who perhaps play for the first time for Scotland in those games. We’ll be juggling to make sure we get the balance right.

“I inherited that arrangement. I think it had been decided a few years back. It’s in place, we can’t change it, so we just get on with it.

“It’s an opportunity for a few players to step up. You’ve got players that will be keen to stake a place. For some players it will be a good thing.”

Despite those difficulties, Cotter thinks that the World Cup is actually easier to prepare for than the Six Nations.

“By all accounts, from people who have been involved, if anything, the World Cup is easier to handle,” he said.