Rugby-Japan's set piece now a weapon, says Wallaby Alaalatoa

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The days when Japan were a pushover in the scrum are long gone and Australia prop Allan Alaalatoa is expecting a fierce battle against an experienced front row when the teams meet in Oita this weekend.

The Brave Blossoms took a big step up in the forwards on their run to the 2019 World Cup quarter-finals and Alaalatoa saw more improvement against the big packs of the British and Irish Lions XV and Ireland this year.

"What we see in the Japanese scrummaging is that they're very low, and we know that their front row is very experienced," he told reporters from Japan on Monday.

"Their front row has been together for a few years now and most of them played in the World Cup. They've all been sticking to the same system together for a while.

"That's definitely a strength of theirs, and seeing the way they scrummaged against the British and Irish Lions and the Ireland team, you can see that they've definitely grown in the scrum and the lineout and they use that as a weapon."

While Japan suffered narrow losses in their only two matches this year, the Wallabies put three defeats by the All Blacks behind them to record four straight wins at the end of the Rugby Championship.

Alaalatoa played in the first of back-to-back victories over world champions South Africa but relinquished the starting tighthead role to Taniela Tupou for the last three matches of the tournament to spend time with his family.

Despite being a veteran of 50 tests, Alaalatoa knows he will have his work cut out to get back in the starting side on the end-of-season tour, which also includes tests against Scotland, England and Wales.

"I was sitting back at home and watching (Tupou) probably play some of his best footy," he said.

"It's great for the Wallabies to have that competition and for me coming back into the squad, I've got to make sure that I earn the right to play and to wear the jersey again."

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Ed Osmond)

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