The Sunwolves head into their second Super Rugby game Saturday with head coach Mark Hammett showing confidence in the group that played the first.
Having arrived in Singapore on Thursday evening for the first of three home-away-from-home games under the roof of the Singapore Sports Hub, Hammett announced the starting XV for the game against the Cheetahs would be exactly the same as the side that started against the Lions two weeks ago.
“(Spirits) are pretty positive. Obviously we’ve had a bye, which was good, we had a short preseason. (The team) had a busy week training, but it gave us 25 percent more time than what we had, so hopefully we’ll be a little more organized,” Hammett was quoted as saying by the Straits Times on arriving in the island state.
While the Sunwolves did far better than many imagined in going down 26-13 to the Lions on the opening weekend, Japan’s new Super Rugby franchise did struggle in the set piece.
“We’re not hiding from the fact we’ve probably battled at scrum time, certainly early in the (first) half, and some of the set-pieces in terms of how to get the game started,” said Hammett.
“We’ve worked hard over the last two weeks to try and remedy it. I don’t think it’ll be perfect, but we’ve also trained non-perfect situations if it does happen again.”
In addition to keeping faith with the same run-on XV, Hammett has made just two changes on the bench with prop Takuma Asahara in for the injured Koki Yamamoto and Mifiposeti Paea preferred to Hajime Yamashita as one of the three reserve backs.
“It’s probably hard to (identify) the strengths and weaknesses in one game with a new group. We’ve worked hard over the last two weeks to try and remedy that,” said Hammett.
Like the Sunwolves, the Cheetahs have yet to open their account having gone down 34-33 to Argentina’s new boys the Jaguares in the opening week and 20-10 to fellow South African outfit the Stormers last week.
“Sunwolves are a quality side and they’re really well coached,” Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith was quoted as saying by The New Paper.
“From (preseason) to the Lions game, they already made a big step-up. So I expect them to have worked really hard the last two weeks and make another step up this week. It’s going to be very difficult and tough game.”
Smith has made seven changes to his starting XV and one on the bench, and left South Africa Rugby Player of the year Lood de Jager back in Bloemfontein so he could rest in line with South African Rugby Union protocol.
But the Sunwolves are taking nothing for granted.
“I’ve played the Cheetahs many times over the last few years in Super Rugby. (They play a) very different style to what other African sides play,” said Sunwolves No. 8 Ed Quirk, who moved to Japan from the Reds.
“We’ve got our own strategy leading in, not focusing on the Cheetahs too much. We want to get our preparation right so that we can compete.”
Quirk and his fellow back row forwards Andrew Durutalo and Liaki Moli were outstanding against the Lions and their ability to force turnovers will be key to the Sunwolves putting in a good performance.
“I think we’d be silly to make predictions. We know we’re going into this game as underdogs (but) we’re not afraid of their team either,” said Hammett.