The Sunwolves' match against the Force on Saturday provides them with a rare opportunity to win successive games in Tokyo. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
There's no doubt this will be one of the scrappiest matches of the tournament. The Sunwolves are second last in the South African group, while the Force are at the foot of the Australasian group. Between them, they have only won twice in 17 matches in 2016.
However, for a team that is new to the pressures of Super Rugby, the Sunwolves have showed much more promise than the Force. To illustrate this point, the team from Western Australia would have been stationed below their hosts on a combined Super Rugby log despite having played a game more.
For the Sunwolves, a clash against fellow minnows could not have come at a better time. Fresh off a well-deserved bye, Mark Hammett's side and all of Japan will still be high on confidence after breaking their Super Rugby duck with a 36-28 come-from-behind victory over the Jaguares in round nine.
By contrast, the Force have now lost seven consecutive games. Add to that the fact they've not won a single match outside Australia since 2014 and you'll see why there are better odds on the Sunwolves going back-to-back than the Force ending their drought.
The Sunwolves play a loose brand of rugby and thrive in broken play. And when they are required to alter the game plan, the tactical kicking of Tusi Pisi and Riaan Viljoen has done the trick.
By comparison, the Force's backline has looked stale and out of ideas because the team's game is based around the forwards, and captain Matt Hodgson and Ben McCalman in particular. In Tokyo, the Wallabies pair must win the breakdown battle and lead the way on defence to balance the scales and enhance their team's chances of recording a first win abroad in two years.
In team news, the inclusion of wings Akihito Yamada and John Stewart may provide further impetus to the Sunwolves' attack, while lock Fa’atiga Lemalu is the only change to the run-on XV.
Centre Kyle Godwin returns to the Force's starting lineup for the first time since sustaining a knee injury in round one and is joined by tighthead prop Guy Millar, lock Ross Haylett-Petty and flank Brynard Stander.
HEAD TO HEAD
This is the teams' first meeting.
STATS AND FACTS
– The Sunwolves' only experience against Australian opponents was a 26-point loss to the Rebels in round four.
– The Sunwolves, after a 36-28 win against fellow newcomers the Jaguares, will now be searching for consecutive wins for the first time in their short history.
– The Force have won only two of their last 19 matches away from home and outside Australia, most recently in round 13, 2014.
– The Sunwolves have conceded just one penalty goal in the final quarter of matches so far this season; only the Bulls and Lions (zero) have conceded fewer.
– The Force are one of only three teams in the competition to average more penalty goals (2.4) per game than tries (1.2).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Sunwolves||Tusi Pisi (78)||Akihito Yamada (5)||Riaan Viljoen (464)||Shota Horie (63)|
|Force||Peter Grant (43)||Ben Tapuai, Luke Morahan (2)||Dabe Haylett-Petty (659)||Matt Hodgson (125)|
Sunwolves – 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Derek Carpenter, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 John Stewart, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Ed Quirk, 7 Andrew Durutalo, 6 Liaki Moli, 5 Faatiga Lemalu, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 2, Shota Horie (c), 1 Masataka Mikami. Subs: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Ziun Gu, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Yoshiya Hosoda, 20 Taiyo Ando, 21 Atsushi Hiwasa, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Mifiposeti Paea.
Force – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Junior Rasolea, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Luke Morohan, 10 Ian Prior, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Byrnard Stander, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Guy Millar, 2 Harry Scoble, 1 Francois van Wyk. Subs: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Tetera Faulkner, 19 Steve Mafi, 20 Angus Cottrell, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Semisi Masirewa.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Aki Aso (Japan)
TMO: Takashi Hareda (Japan)
Photo: Koji Watanabe/Getty Images