Super Rugby’s two new franchises desperately need a win and Saturday in Tokyo seems like the perfect opportunity as the Jaguares travel to Japan.
The Sunwolves are yet to win since their induction but there have been close calls along the way – losing by a point to the Cheetahs back in Round 3, 27-30 against the Bulls in Round 5 and 28-33 against the Kings in Round 6.
All of which made last Friday’s abomination of a loss to the Cheetahs all the more disappointing.
The Sunwolves might not have excelled in all areas this season but they’ve at least scrapped their way to those three losing bonus points. In Bloemfontein however their defence was a shambles, conceding 14 tries and only making 57 out of 83 tackles.
Head coach Mark Hammett will be hoping that was more of a blip than a sign of things to come, but it’s not a surprise to see the Sunwolves hitting a mental and physical stumbling block after their haphazard preparations prior to the season.
A bye week awaits after Saturday’s game with the Jaguares and it can’t come soon enough, because they have travelled back from South Africa playing their sixth game in a row, where they look like they were running on empty.
Getting anything out of this weekend’s game could all hinge on the goal-kicking of Tusi Pisi. Of the 14 players to have attempted 25 plus kicks at goal this season, Pisi (85 percent – 22/26) has the best success rate.
Early on the Jaguares focus was less on accumulating points with the boot and more on trying to offload every ball possible, but that noticeably reduced last week against the Crusaders to the extent that their attack looked predictable.
Raul Pérez and his squad are still trying to nail that balance between playing with the width and speed on the ball that has won them so many supporters, and knowing when to keep it tight in order to win matches.
Losses in their last two matches by 18 and 17 points respectively on the road look like a sign of fatigue, much like the Sunwolves, but again like Saturday’s hosts their three losing bonus points prove that the Jaguares are not completely out of their depth.
Just imagine how good they could be if they cut out the basic errors and were better at holding onto the ball. The Jaguares have turned the ball over more than any other side so far this season, conceding an average of 19.7 per game.
That can’t happen if they want to secure a second Super Rugby win this weekend. This is a golden opportunity for both of the new sides, whose place in the competition long-term can’t be questioned yet.
Players to watch: Five out of nine lineout wins last Friday was far too few, so you can guarantee that Shota Horie and Hitoshi Ono will have been grafting away this week to ensure the Sunwolves are at least able to retain the majority of their own throws to control possession. Horie much like his opposite man Agustín Creevy has been the star performer for the Sunwolves. His ball carrying is vital to their attack.
Joaquín Tuculet was the standout attacker for the Jaguares last week at full-back and the more he and Jerómino de la Fuente get the ball in their hands the better. De la Fuente has carried well all year, but it’s Tuculet’s subtle footwork and handling when he gets up to the gainline which make the Argentina star such a threat. He seems set for a big game.
Sunwolves: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Viliami Lolohea, 13 Derek Carpenter, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 Mifiposeti Paea, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Atsushi Hiwasa, 8 Ed Quirk, 7 Andrew Durutalo, 6 Yoshiya Hosoda, 5 Liaki Moli, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 2 Shota Horie (c), 1 Masataka Mikami
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Ziun Gu, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Faatiga Lemalu, 20 Talyo Ando, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Yasutaka Sasakura
Jaguares: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 12 Santiago González Iglesias, 11 Lucas González Amorosino, 10 Juan Martín Hernández, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Juan Cruz Guillemaín, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Felipe Arregui
Replacements: 16 Facundo Bosch, 17 Facundo Gigena, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Rodrigo Báez, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Joaquín Paz, 23 Emiliano Boffelli
Date: Saturday, April 23
Venue: Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo
Kick-off: 14:15 local (05:15 GMT)
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown
Assistant Referees: Chris Pollock, Noriaki Hashimoto
TMO: Takashi Hareda