The Sunwolves head into Round 6 of this year’s Super Rugby competition in the unfamiliar position of not being everyone’s underdog.
Mark Hammett’s men take on the Southern Kings at Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and head into the game two points clear of their opponents at the bottom of the South African Group standings.
Two narrow losses in Singapore, their home-away-from-home, have handed the Sunwolves two bonus points. And they will be disappointed if they are unable to leave town with at least four more points as they go up against the one side that began the season with more off-field issues than them.
“It’s going to be a battle of wills,” Sunwolves captain Shota Horie said Friday, when the team trained for about an hour. “We want to outlast them and win.
“I think we’ve dealt with the (seven-hour) time difference well. We feel good.”
While both sides have scored roughly the same number of points in their four defeats from four games — the Sunwolves’ 80 to the Kings’ 76 — Hammett’s team has conceded far fewer (123 to 200) despite the missed tackles and poor set piece that have taken a shine off some of the superb attacking rugby it has played.
“We do regret the four losses, it is disappointing,” Horie said. “But we can only look forward to the next games, and learn lessons from each game we play.”
Hammett has kept the same backline that started last week’s narrow 30-27 loss to the Bulls, but he has tinkered with his pack.
Shinnosuke Kakinaga and Takuma Asahara rotate at tighthead prop with the former starting and the latter on the bench.
Timothy Bond returns from a one-match suspension to join Hitoshi Ono in the second row with Liaki Moli moving from the engine room to blindside flanker.
Yoshiya Hosoda, meanwhile, drops to the bench as does Tomas Leonardi, whose No. 8 jersey will be worn by Ed Quirk.
The Sunwolves may have the backing of many punters against one of the other new sides in the expanded tournament, but Hammett is doing all he can to keep his team’s feet on the ground.
“The moment we believe that we are favorites, we are going to lose,” he said according to the Straits Times. “And they’re playing on their home ground, so we’ve got to be prepared to put in our best performance.”
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