Sunwolves Boosted By Returnees Ahead Of Chiefs Clash
Head Coach Jamie Joseph continues to rotate his Sunwolves squad, making ten changes for this weekend’s showdown with the Chiefs.
Three of those players returning from injury. Yu Tamura will slot into the pivotal no. 10 role, where in recent weeks the Sunwolves have had a number of makeshift players. Scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka will pair up with Tamura in a potent backline that caused problems for the Lions last week. “It’s good to have Tamura back. Obviously he hasn’t played for some time so he’ll be a little bit rusty but hopefully he’ll go out and impact our team in a positive way because when he goes well, there’s no one better in Japan,” said Sunwolves Assistant Coach Tony Brown.
After suffering a broken arm in a Brave Blossoms’ international against Australia, Tongan-born lock Uwe Helu has been selected to beef up the second row alongside Kazuki Himeno. In the centers, Timothy Lafaele returns after getting a head knock in week three against the Rebels, to pair up with the impressive Michael Little. In a positional switch Michael Leitch moves to blindside flanker to make way for team captain Willie Britz at no. 8, packing down with openside Ed Quirk who returns fresh after a two week hiatus.
Playing the Waikato-based outfit will be special for Leitch and Robbie Robinson who are up against their old team for the first time. Leitch spent four seasons with the Chiefs while Robinson was a member of the team that won back to back Super Rugby titles in 2012 & 2013 and is a cousin of brothers Damian and Marty McKenzie - both in starting lineup for the visitors.
The Chiefs come to Tokyo with impressive wins over the Bulls and Blues while the hosts are still searching for their first victory of the season.
Chiefs’ team captain, Sam Cane said of those victories, “We showed a lot of character in both of those games. This weekend we’ll be looking to play with that same character and heart but also bring a sharper skill set and be a little bit more accurate. But I think we are growing nicely.”
There are a number of All Blacks in the Chiefs side that will need to be watched closely if the Sunwolves are to have any chance of winning. One is towering lock, Brodie Retallick who will test the host in the lineout.
Leitch said, “We’ve just got to take care of Brodie Retallick because he just gets stuck into everything and he causes disruptions at the lineouts.” Also on the danger list is center Anton Lienert-Brown, openside flanker Cane and fullback Damian McKenzie who switches to first five-eighth allowing his brother Marty to earn his first start at no. 15.
Although last week’s away match against the Lions was arguably the Sunwolves’ best attacking performance in the competition to date, one area that the men from Japan are keen to rectify is conceding soft tries to the opposition through kick charges or set-pieces.
“That is the trend at the moment. There have been so many easy tries and we have to stop them. We have to get our defense up to scratch and we should be competitive because we are scoring points,“ said Leitch. As for the set-pieces Leitch said, “Our scrum did alright against the Lions considering our size and how long we’ve been together, our lineout is still trial and error but other than that I think our attack is good enough to win games.”
In ringing the changes for the Chiefs, Joseph has kept his team fresh and ready to put in a high-energy performance Saturday.
Brown said, “Our preparation has been good this week and hopefully, we can perform with the same intensity and deliver a better result against the Chiefs.”
- Todd Phillips: March 23rd 2018
Sunwolves / Chiefs Captain's Run
Photos: John Gunning March 23rd 2018: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground