GEORGE Horne would not thank anyone for telling him this, but in many ways he is the ideal replacement scrum-half.

The Glasgow player’s turn of speed and eye for an opening are invaluable assets at any time in a game, but especially so when the opposition are tiring and those openings are growing in number. 

As a broken-field sniper, the 26-year-old is second to none. But when it comes to selection for the Warriors and for Scotland, Horne has all too often been second to Ali Price these past couple of years.

Price’s burgeoning maturity and leadership qualities have had a lot to do with that: from being unsure of his position at Scotstoun just a couple of seasons ago, he has gone from playing in all three Lions Tests against the Springboks this summer. And Horne has also been handicapped by his own injury problems - last season, for example, he was out of action for several months with a foot injury.

Together, those factors explain why Horne’s last seven caps have all been won as a replacement. Now, however, he is at peak fitness, and, after coming on for Price in the win against the Wallabies then the defeat by South Africa, he is surely ready to start against Japan on Saturday. Certainly, if Gregor Townsend is swithering about the choice, he might care to remember that the last time Horne started an international - against Russia at the 2019 Rugby World Cup - he scored a hat-trick of tries.

“Maybe I should let him know that!,” Horne told journalists this week when reminded of his scoring feat in that 61-0 win. “You guys could tell him as well. I would love to start every game, but I understand that as a nine often the role is to come off the bench. I want to get on and score as many tries as possible: that would be nice.” 

The World Cup holds less pleasant memories for the Scotland squad than that victory over the Russians, with a defeat by the Japanese being particularly traumatic. But Horne is convinced that his team have changed almost beyond recognition since then, and so does not believe Saturday’s match will bear too much resemblance to the last meeting of the teams.

“We’re a completely different team now,” he continued. “We’ve developed our game a lot in the last couple of years and we’re up there as one of the best teams in the world defensively. So hopefully we can put them under a lot of pressure and not let them play their offloading, expansive game. 

“We kind of know what’s coming. We played them a couple of years ago and they’ve got a fairly similar team. It’s not going to be anything like 2019, hopefully.”

Japan like to keep up a consistently high tempo, which in some respects suits Horne just fine, as the Warriors have a similar style of play. But he insisted that Scotland are not simply going to try to fight fire with fire at BT Murrayfield and do everything as quickly as possible themselves - especially in defence, where the aim will be to slow things down.

“A fast-paced, high tempo game suits me personally. I think it's also what Scotland are trying to play - attack at speed and take the space, whether that is wide or through the middle. 

“It suits us, but we know the challenge we are going to face. Japan are really good at what they do, so hopefully it will be an entertaining game.

“In defence we don't want them to play fast: we want to slow their ball down and keep on top of them.  But when we get the ball, whether from turnover or set piece, we still want to implement our game plan and our style of play on them. In defence we want to stop them getting unstructured play, which they like. But in attack we will play to our strengths.

“I think we will go into the game confident. We feel as if we play our best rugby we can match any team in the world. 

“But that doesn't mean we are underestimating Japan. Obviously the result a couple of years ago shows you that they are a very good team and we are going to have to be at our best to beat them. But we will still have confidence in ourselves to win the game.”

The battle for the No 9 jersey is only going to intensify over the next few years. A third Warrior, Jamie Dobie, made his debut off the bench against Tonga, while Edinburgh’s Ben Vellacott, arguably the most in-form back in the country, will surely win his own first cap before too long. Horne knows he therefore needs to make the most of any chance he gets to state his case for a starting place. We will find out tomorrow, when Townsend announces his team, if the next chance is coming on Saturday.