The Sunwolves will get their first taste of Australasian opposition Saturday when they take on the Melbourne Rebels.
Having been competitive in two losses to the Lions and Cheetahs, Mark Hammett will be hoping his team will have taken on board the lessons their South African foes have handed them.
A lack of discipline at crucial times, failure to win their own line-outs and getting little impact from the bench eventually proved to be the Sunwolves’ undoing, especially last week against the Cheetahs in Singapore when they threw away a golden opportunity to record their first Super Rugby win in just their second game.
“We’ve got to play for the full 80 minutes,” flyhalf Tusi Pisi said Friday after his side’s captain’s run at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.
“You need a strong squad and the 23 picked this week will hopefully allow us to finally get that W.”
Pisi and fullback Riaan Viljoen have, along with the back row, been outstanding, and it’s been noticeable that when the Samoan and South African are off the field, the team’s performance tends to drop.
“We can’t give away too many penalties,” said Viljoen. “We should have won last week. If the discipline is good this week then that should put us in a position to win the game.”
The return from injury of Argentina international Tomas Leonardi gives head coach Hammett a useful weapon off the bench, particularly as the Rebels’ back row of Adam Thomson, Sean McMahon and Jordy Reid has been hugely influential in the Melbourne side starting their campaign with two wins and a loss.
“Australian teams are a bit better on the ground than South African teams so we will need to be aggressive and look after the ball,” Hammett said.
It was a point not lost on Leonardi.
“We can’t let them get any momentum. Stopping them will be key,” he said.
The Sunwolves have won just 73 percent of their own line-outs and Rebels captain McMahon admitted it would be an area they focus on.
“You’ve got to attack any set piece and try to get the ball back,” he said, “And (in the line-out) the focus will be to D up and get people in the air.”
Head coach Tony McGahan is one of a number of Rebels to have plied their trade in Japan, and McMahon admitted it was good to get some inside information.
“They’ve thrown a few hints about how your guys play and it’s been very helpful,” he told reporters after the Rebels captain’s run.
With both sides favoring an expansive game, both coaches will be hoping the rain holds off.
“We want to use the Japanese style and play quick rugby from the set piece,” said Hammett. “When the Rebels are at their best, they like to play with high intensity and they use the width very well. Sometimes they run in isolation and while that offers us an opportunity it also makes them dangerous. They have players who do the unexpected and again that offers us an opportunity if we are aware of it.”