The Sunwolves will be looking for their first triumph of the season when they host the Melbourne Rebels at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo on Saturday.
The home side performed well in their opening Super Rugby fixture and will be feel aggrieved that they let the Brumbies back in to it, despite holding a 19-15 half-time lead over their Australian opponents last weekend in Tokyo.
The Japanese side look a much-improved outfit, with some decent acquisitions made in the off-season. They will also be boosted by the presence of talismanic blindside flanker Michael Leitch, who is looking forward to the game.
“I haven’t felt this good in a long time, so I am pretty excited about going out there tomorrow,” Leitch told Kyodo News.
“I’m getting my ball in my hands a lot more now so once I get it I have to do something with it.”
Meanwhile, the Rebels were nothing short of sublime in Melbourne when they made easy work of the Reds, aided by three assists from scrum-half Will Genia on debut against his old side and a brace of tries for fellow new signing Dane Haylett-Petty.
The Melbourne outfit have strengthened considerably in the off-season, signing an array of experienced internationals, having been the major beneficiaries of the Force’s axing. They now boast a side capable of challenging the Brumbies for the title of Australia’s best.
In captain Adam Coleman, Genia and Haylett-Petty (to name just three), they have considerably strengened on quality and experience, which should enable them to handle the pressure of the increased expectation that comes with winning.
Meanwhile, Sunwolves defence coach Scott Hansen believes that if his side are to get anything from the game, they must keep an eye on industrious number eight Amanaki Mafi, who plays for Japan, and Wallabies great Genia.
“(Mafi) is well known to the Japan boys and a very good player,” said Hansen.
“Last year he had a huge influence in Super Rugby in terms of carry meters and we will have to limit his opportunities to influence the game.”
Genia, meanwhile, “has influenced world rugby and referees for a long time,” Hansen said.
“We will have to defend well around the fringes and we will have to be smart how we organize our defense around him. We have definitely talked about him this week.”
Team news: Sunwolves coach Jamie Joseph has made numerous changes to his starting XV. There are six changes in all, including a couple of positional switches. In the backline, Robbie Robertson shifts from fly-half to full-back, where he takes over from Jason Emery, while Hayden Parker comes in to wear the number 10 jersey.
The other changes in the backs sees Akihito Yamada replacing Lomano Lava Lemeki on the right wing and William Tupou is preferred to Hosea Saumaki on the left wing.
In the forwards, Ed Quirk returns to start at number eight with Willie Britz, who started in that position in last weekend’s loss to the Brumbies, moving to lock where he takes over from Grant Hattingh.
Meanwhile, Japan captain Michael Leitch is set to make his debut for the franchise on the blindside flank, where he comes in for Kazuki Himeno while Craig Millar replaces Keita Inagaki at loosehead prop.
Melbourne Rebels head coach Dave Wessels has retained the same starting line-up. In all, there two changes to the matchday 23 from last weekend’s 45-19 victory over the Queensland Reds in the season opener in Melbourne.
Wessels has made two changes to the reserves with former England international lock Geoff Parling and experienced Rebels flanker Colby Fainga’a selected on the bench.
Parling replaces Sam Jeffries in the matchday 23 after Jeffries had to undergo a minor scope to his knee earlier in the week – which is expected to keep him out of action for three weeks.
Captain Adam Coleman will make his 50th Super Rugby appearance on Saturday against the Sunwolves after one appearance for the Waratahs (2013), 47 games for the Western Force (2014-2017) and his debut for the Rebels last weekend against the Reds.
2017: Rebels won 35-9 in Tokyo
Sunwolves: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 William Tupou, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Yutaka Nagare (c), 8 Ed Quirk, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Willie Britz, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Jiwon Koo, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Craig Millar
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 James Moore, 20 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Harumichi Tatekawa, 23 Ryuji Noguchi
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Will Genia, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Lopeti Timani, 5 Adam Coleman (c), 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Jordan Uelese, 1 Tetera Faulkner
Replacements: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Fereti Sa’aga, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Ross Haylett-Petty, 21 Colby Fainga’a, 22 Michael Ruru, 23 Billy Meakes
Date: Saturday, March 3
Venue: Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo
Kick-off: 13:15 local (04:15 GMT)
Referee: Egon Seconds (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
Television match official: Minoru Fuji (Japan)