The Sunwolves return to action in Singapore for the visit of the Sharks this weekend, with the South African franchise coming off a shock defeat.
Fresh off a much-needed bye week, the Sunwolves went into their week off kicking their heels having had the result in Buenos Aires in their hands before falling late on to the Jaguares.
Make no mistake though, there was so much to like about their performance in the Argentine capital, from the speed of their defence to their dominance of the breakdown, all which clearly left Agustín Creevy and his side rattled.
Add on that the Sunwolves were coming off a three-game trip to New Zealand to face the Crusaders, Highlanders and Chiefs before they worried the home crowd in Buenos Aires, and that performance was all the more impressive.
The cold, hard truth? Filo Tiatia’s side have still only won one match all season, the 21-20 victory over the Bulls, and games like Saturday’s in Singapore are the type of fixture they need to deliver in.
Tiatia will certainly be pleased to welcome back Harumichi Tatekawa, the centre whose mix of power and playmaking ability can work perfectly in the Sunwolves’ midfield.
What to expect from the Sharks is hard to guess at. The first instinct would be that Robert du Preez and his side will respond boldly to last weekend’s late defeat to the Kings.
Du Preez admirably held his hands up and paid credit to the Kings after watching his side fall short in Port Elizabeth, undone by the Kings’ accurate kicking game followed by turnovers.
Injuries have hit the Sharks hard however, with Garth April getting the starting gig at number ten and a first start at inside centre for Johan Deysel.
Dominance from the Sharks tight five is imperative to avoid the upset. Given how well the Sunwolves have played in Singapore so far this year, there will be no room for sloppiness.
The last time the teams met: A more entertaining contest than expected took place in Durban with the Sharks outscoring the Sunwolves by six tries to four in a 40-29 victory. In the first meeting between the two teams, Garth April kicked five conversions and scored one of the Sharks’ tries late on along with Curwin Bosch to put the result to bed. Mifiposeti Paea scored two of the Sunwolves’ four tries.
Team news: The Sunwolves are boosted by the return of captain and inside centre Harumichi Tatekawa. Tatekawa is back from a knee injury he suffered during pre-season and takes over the captaincy role from hard-working back-row Ed Quirk. In the other change to the backline, Ryohei Yamanaka comes in alongside Tatekawa at centre, replacing William Tupou in the starting XV. Up front, Keita Inagaki and Shota Horie come in at loosehead prop and hooker respectively, with second-row Naohiro Kotaki and flankers Yoshitaka Tokunaga and Shuhei Matsuhashi also earning starts.
Sharks head coach Robert du Preez has had his hand forced with injuries in the backline. In a completely rejigged front-row and going with his rotation policy, Du Preez has brought in Thomas du Toit for Beast Mtawarira, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Franco Marais swap jerseys and Lourens Adriaanse replaces Coenie Oosthuizen, who has been rested in line with the Springbok rest protocol.
Stephan Lewies comes in for Etienne Oosthuizen in the second row in the final change to the pack, with the loose forward trio of captain Philip van der Walt and the Du Preez twins, Jean-Luc and Daniel remaining intact for this match. Michael Claassens, has picked up a hamstring injury and Rowan Gouws has flown to Singapore to take his place on the bench. Cobus Reinach will decide matters as the link between forwards and backs. Garth April comes in at 10, Johan Deysel takes over at inside centre for Ward and Lwazi Mvovo has be moved from wing to full-back to accommodate the loss of Smith. This opens the door for Sbu Nkosi to start his second match for the Sharks after making his debut two weeks ago against the Western Force at Kings Park.
Form: This will be just the second meeting between these teams after the Durban squad took a 40-29 win against the Sunwolves in the final regular season round last year. The Sunwolves will be looking for back-to-back home wins for the first time in their Super Rugby tenure after a one-point win against the Bulls in Round 7. The Sharks have won their last two games outside South Africa, never before have they won three such fixtures in succession within a single campaign. The Sharks have conceded only three tries in the opening quarter of games this campaign, the equal fewest of any team in the competition and 10 fewer than the Sunwolves’ 13, which is more than any other team in the same period.
2016: Sharks won 40-29 in Durban
Sunwolves: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Shota Emi, 13 Ryohei Yamanaka, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Willem Britz, 7 Shuhei Matsuhashi, 6 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 5 Noahiro Kotaki, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Yasuo Yamaji, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Hino, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Hitoshi Ono, 20 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 21 Keisuka Uchidam 22 Jumpei Ogura, 23 Yasutaka Sasakura
Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Johan Deysel, 11 Sbu Nkosi, 10 Garth April, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Rowan Gouws, 22 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 23 S’bura Sithole
Date: Saturday, May 20
Venue: Singapore National Stadium, Singapore
Kick-off: 20:55 local (11:55 GMT)
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann
Assistant Referees: Aki Aso, Tasuku Kawahara
TMO: Minoru Fuji