The Sunwolves' ability to close out a game will be tested again when they host the Rebels in Tokyo on Saturday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
The Japanese franchise lost 26-13 to the Lions in the opening round, before letting slip a 31-13 lead against the Cheetahs last weekend to lose 32-31.
The Sunwolves are a well-coached side, no doubt. That much was evident from how they bullied the Cheetahs in the first half in Singapore, and the scintillating tries they scored from set moves. New Zealander Mark Hammett has made an immediate impact on this makeshift squad.
They've shown they won't be pushovers, but it looks like there is no real quick-fix for their inability to see out tight encounters.
By contrast, the Rebels have shown fighting character until the last minute of all their games, but especially against the Reds last weekend when they had to dig deep in the closing stages to complete a comeback victory.
The schedule has been harsh on the men from Melbourne. They have had to travel to Perth, Pretoria, back home to Melbourne and then on to Tokyo.
If the Sunwolves can play with intensity for the full 80 minutes against a Rebels side who must be worn out by their gruelling travelling schedule, they might be in with a chance to claim their first-ever victory in the competition. Hammett's charges will also have to improve defensively against a Rebels team able to score from inside their own half.
There are three changes to the Sunwolves' starting lineup. Mifiposeti Paea replaces Yasutaka Sasakura on the left wing, flank Yoshiya Hosoda comes in for Liaki Moli and Takuma Asahara earns a start at tighthead prop at the expense of Shinnosuke Kakinaga.
Rebels coach Tony McGahan has made two changes to his starting XV, with Tamati Ellison passing a concussion test to resume his midfield partnership with Mitch Inman, while there is a rotational change in the front row where hooker Pat Leafa takes over from James Hanson. On the bench, the Rebels welcome back regular captain Nic Stirzaker and one of his deputies, Scott Fuglistaller.
HEAD TO HEAD
This is the teams' first meeting
STATS THAT MATTER
– The Sunwolves’ 28 first-half points against the Cheetahs in round three was the equal most points scored by any team in the opening half of any match across the first three weekends of Super Rugby.
– This will be the Sunwolves’ first Super Rugby encounter with a team outside South Africa.
– The Rebels become the first Australian team to travel to Japan to face the Sunwolves, though they’ve won only one of their 21 matches outside Australia.
– Mitch Inman has made 35 carries this season, the third most of any Australian player and the sixth most in the competition.
– The Sunwolves have won the fewest lineouts (11) and have the lowest lineout success (73%) of any team in the competition so far.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Sunwolves||Tusi Pisi (19)||Akihito Yamada (3)||Akihito Yamada (145)||Ed Quirk (21)|
|Rebels||Jack Debreczeni (25)||Jonah Placid, Reece Hodge, Ben Meehan (2)||Tom English (187)||Sean McMahon (36)|
Sunwolves – 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Harumichi Tatekawa, 12 Yu Tamura, 11 Mifiposeti Paea, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Atsushi Hiwasa, 8 Edward Quirk, 7 Andrew Durutalo, 6 Yoshiya Hosoda, 5 Timothy Bond, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Takuma Asahara, 2 Shota Horie (c), 1 Keith Inagaki.
Subs: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Tomas Leonardi, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Derek Carpenter, 23 Yasutaka Sasakura.
Rebels – 15 Jonah Placid, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Sean McMahon (c), 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Scott Fuglistaller, 21 Nic Stirzaker, 22 Dan Hawkins, 23 Stone Tuipulotu.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Shuhei Kubo (Japan), Noriaki Hashimoto (Japan)
TMO: Takashi Hareda (Japan)
Photo: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images