Reds fullback Ayumu Goromaru will have a decisive role to play against the Sunwolves in Brisbane on Saturday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
The Japanese cult hero will come up against his country's Super Rugby team for the first time, and several tour groups from the Far East are heading Down Under to see him in action.
With league convert Karmichael Hunt having been entrusted with the Reds No 15 jumper for much of the season, there has been talk of Goromaru leaving Queensland at the end of the tournament. But with Hunt still nursing a groin injury, the 30-year-old Goromaru, rather aptly, will start against the Sunwolves. His knowledge of Japanese rugby should help the Reds unlock the Sunwolves' stern defence that almost saw them beat the Stormers in Singapore last weekend.
They might not be the best team on the block, but the hallmark of the Sunwolves' inaugural Super Rugby campaign has been the gusto and zest with which they've played. Poor decision-making, which saw the captain set a lineout instead of taking the three points on offer that would have forced the Stormers to score twice, denied the Sunwolves victory in round 12. But if their performance in that 17-17 draw is anything to go by, opportunity beckons for coach Mark Hammett's charges.
The Reds forwards were completely outplayed in their 29-14 loss to a weakened Hurricanes side, and they'll need a better collective effort from their tight five to produce a different outcome on Saturday. Their pack has to match the Sunwolves' abrasive work at the breakdown to provide Goromaru and co with a decent platform to run freely or at least pin the Sunwolves back in their own half.
This game could be a dull arm wrestle, but it has the potential to be entertaining, with the battle between Goromaru and Riaan Viljoen set to take centre stage.
The Sunwolves have made one change to their match 23, with prop Keita Inagaki replacing Ziun Gu on the bench. There is a solitary swap to the Reds run-on XV, which sees lock Cadeyrn Neville start ahead of Be Matwijow.
HEAD TO HEAD
This is the teams' first meeting.
STATS AND FACTS
– The Reds have won their last two games at home, the same amount of wins they accrued in their previous 12 home matches. The last time they won three on the spin in the same season was at the end of their 2013 campaign.
– The Sunwolves have conceded 171 points in their three games away from home so far in 2016, an average of 57 per game.
– The Reds have scored 38 more points than they've conceded in the third quarter of games so far this season, the fourth-best difference of any team and nine more than the next best Australian team (Brumbies).
– Riaan Viljoen has gained 604m, the most of any Sunwolves player, and has scored two tries and gained 176m in the Sunwolves' last two games away from home.
– Rob Simmons has won 58 lineouts (including one steal) this season, the second most of any player in the competition and 15 more than the next best Australian-based player (Sam Carter, 43).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Reds||Jake McIntyre (80)||Samu Kerevi, Nick Frisby (4)||Samu Kerevi (628)||Jake McIntyre (78)|
|Sunwolves||Tusi Pisi (95)||Akihito Yamada (8)||Riaan Viljoen (604)||Ed Quirk (93)|
Reds – 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Campbell Magnay, 12 Anthony Fainga'a, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Curtis Browning, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Andrew Ready, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Matt Mafi, 17 Sef Fa'agase, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Be Matwijow, 20 Michael Gunn, 21 James Tuttle, 22 Duncan Paia'aua, 23 Junior Laloifi.
Sunwolves – 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Derek Carpenter, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa (c), 11 John Stewart, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Atsushi Hiwasa, 8 Ed Quirk, 7 Andrew Durutalo, 6 Liaki Moli, 5 Faatiga Lemalu, 4 Timothy Bond, 3 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 2 Takeshi Kizu, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Subs: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Hitoshi Ono, 20 Talyo Ando, 21 Yuki Yatomi, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Miflposeti Paea.
Referee: Will Houston (Australia)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), Nic Berry (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
Photo: Matt King/Getty Images