- Sunwolves v Rebels
- Saturday 1 February, 4.45pm NZT at Level Five Stadium, Fukuoka
- Played: 5 Won: Rebels 5
- Last match: Rebels 52, Sunwolves 7 (25 May 2019)
The Sunwolves have lost all five of their previous meetings with the Rebels by at least 20 points and things don’t get any easier in round one with a completely revamped squad from last season. The unknown factor may play in the Sunwolves favour though with a number of high-quality signings set to take the field for the first time.
After a highly successful RWC 2019, I’d assume the Japanese public would be waiting with feverous anticipation for their beloved Sunwolves season to start. Surely there is a groundswell of national pride in Rugby, and the public is ready to fill the stands.
2020 – the year of the Sunwolves swansong
Meanwhile, the Rebels are looking to build on the last few years, with some continuity in the squad and backroom team. We’ve been used to seeing a consistent exodus from AAMI park each year, but not this time. It’s refreshing to see the similar faces in the squad, and with some handy inclusions in the off-season. Things are looking good for the Rebels.
If the trial matches are any guide, it’s not a good start for the Rebels. I never look too much into trial match form, and give we’re 0 from 2 this season, my rule seems quite convenient. An undermanned Rebels squad suffered a heavy defeat against the Reds, while a near full-strength team narrowly lost to the Brumbies. As most pundits suggest, don’t read anything into trial game form. It’s just a chance for the coaches to try out a few plays, and the players to get some match fitness. The real stuff begins on Saturday.
Rebels – Big in Japan
Most of the Sunwolves squad only came together in the last few weeks, so team cohesion will be a major problem in the early rounds. It was reported in December the club only had 18 registered players. Even my local club had more players registered in December! Hardly a good preparation for a very long season ahead.
For the Sunwolves there is a mix of debutants and veterans. Ben Te’o starts his first super rugby match at inside centre, and ex-Brumby James Dargaville starts at fullback. Captain Jake Shatz, playing for his third Super Rugby side, lines up at number 8. It’s a very different looking side to the 2019 squad.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
For the Rebels, keep an eye on Lomani, Kellaway, and Leota.
The Fijian livewire Lomani earns his first start at nine, combining with To’omua as the latest halves combo. Frank was a standout for Fiji in RWC and will bring real excitement to the Rebels game. He must form a partnership with To’omua really quickly, and allow him to play his aggressive game at flyhalf. With solid partnerships in the halves, we stand a good chance of beating the Brumbies and Waratahs and hopefully set the pace in the conference in the early rounds.
Kellaway, the former Waratahs and Aus U20’s winger, returns to Australia after a stint with Northampton. A self-described utility, Kellaway adds real pace, and a good highball option that can hold the last line of defence. There is stiff competition for a spot in the backline, so I expect Kellaway to take his chances and sore a few trys this weekend. If not, Tupou or English are waiting for their change on the wing.
The Rebels picked a strong side, capable of dealing some major damage to any team, but I also with a view to upcoming matches against the Brumbies and Waratahs. Lomani and To’omua form a new halves pair, Kellaway starts on the blind wing, with Koroibete moving to the unfamiliar right wing. In the pack, Rob Leota get a start on the openside flank, with Angus Cottrell at blindside. Meakes and Hodge form a familiar pain the midfield, with the DHP at fullback. A strong bench consisting of Smith, Jones, Hardwick and Wells gives the Rebels some muscle in the second half.
Sunwolves: 15 James Dargaville, 14 Siosaia Fifita, 13 Keisuke Moriya (c), 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Tautalatasi Tasi, 10 Garth April, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Brendon O’Connor, 5 Michael Stolberg, 4 Kotaro Yatabe, 3 Conrad van Vuuren, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Jarred Adams
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Mitch Jacobson, 21 Naoto Saito, 22 Shogo Nakano, 23 JJ Engelbrecht
Rebels: 15. Dane Haylett-Petty 14. Marika Koroibete 13. Reece Hodge 12. Bily Meakes 11. Andrew Kellaway 10. Matt To’omua 9. Frank Lomani 8. Isi Naisarani 7. Rob Leota 6. Angus Cottrell 5. Matt Philip 4. Ross Haylett-Petty 3. Jermaine Ainsley 2. Anaru Rangi 1. Fereti Sa’aga
Replacements: 16. Steve Misa 17. Cameron Orr 18. Ruan Smith 19. Luke Jones 20. Michael Wells 21. Richard Hardwick 22. Theo Strang 23. Andrew Deegan
Sunwolves v Rebels
@ Level Five Stadium
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Shuhei Kubo (Japan), Tasuku Kawahara (Japan)
TMO: Minoru Fuji (Japan)