SINGAPORE – There were some familiar faces on show Thursday as the Sunwolves trained on the grounds of UWCSEA international school ahead of Saturday’s Super Rugby game against South Africa’s Sharks at Singapore National Stadium.
Veteran internationals Harumichi Tatekawa, Shota Horie and Hitoshi Ono have all been recalled to the Super Rugby side, having missed most or all of the season to date.
Tatekawa is back to lead the side from inside center, Horie will start at hooker and 39-year-old lock Ono will bring many years of experience to the bench.
With head coach Filo Tiatia and Brave Blossoms coach Jamie Joseph ever mindful of managing the workload of their charges, the team to play the Sharks shows eight changes from the team that started the 46-39 loss to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires two weeks ago.
“It’s got its positives and its negatives,” Sunwolves defense coach Ben Herring told Kyodo News when asked about the larger-than-average pool of players the Sunwolves can draw on.
“The positives are you’ve got fresh pumped up guys coming in to add some vigor. This competition is a real marathon battle. So having those fresh guys come in does provide a lift.
“The flip side is you have to start again from wherever you were as a team on tour and start again from basics.”
Tatekawa (knee injury) and Ono (calf strain) will both be playing their first games of the season for the franchise, while Horie (rest) has not played since March 4.
The trio joins a side that is coming off a week’s rest following four weeks in New Zealand and Argentina, where they came close to beating the Chiefs and the Jaguares.
“The biggest lesson we learned is that we can actually win those games,” Herring said. “The disappointment after the Jaguares win was palpable. I was really gutted. Improving every game on the New Zealand tour and then losing a game we should have won was really disappointing.”
Horie will pack down between Keita Inagaki and Yasuo Yamaji in the front row, with Sam Wykes and Naohiro Kotaki in the engine room and Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Shuhei Matsuhashi and Willie Britz in the back row.
Fumiaki Tanaka returns from injury to partner Yu Tamura at halfback with Ryohei Yamanaka playing outside Tatekawa in the midfield and Shota Emi, Kenki Fukuoka and Kotaro Matsushima making up the back three.
Joining Ono on the bench are front-rowers Masataka Mikami, Takuma Asahara and Takeshi Hino and flanker/No. 8 Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco. Keisuke Uchida, Jumpei Ogura and Yasutaka Sasakura are the reserve backs.
The Sharks arrive from Durban with seven wins, three losses and a draw to their name.
But Herring is hopeful the Sunwolves (one win and nine losses) now know what it takes to beat such opposition.
“We have a game plan that works against the very best teams in the world,” he said. “We now need to take what we have learned and use it against sides that we are more evenly matched with on paper and put them to the sword.”