New Sunwolves head coach Filo Tiatia named his first match-day squad Thursday as his side gear up for the 2017 Super Rugby season.
The Sunwolves take on a Top League All-Star XV on Saturday in their only warm-up game before they open their campaign against New Zealand’s Hurricanes in Tokyo on Feb. 25.
“There are a couple of positions that we are not 100 percent sure about and there is still competition for a few places,” Tiatia said when asked whether Saturday’s side was an indicator of who would play against the reigning Super Rugby champions.
“In some positions we need to see if they are Super Rugby level. Some will surprise us in a positive way and some in a negative way. The key thing is for everyone to do their job.”
Ed Quirk leads the side from No. 8 and with Willie Britz and Shokei Kin joining the Australian in the back row the signs are the Sunwolves will play an expansive game.
“We want to play an exciting brand of rugby,” said Britz, who has 27 Super Rugby caps from his time with the Lions and the Cheetahs in his native South Africa.
“We want to play with ball in hand, get the offloads going and play with width.”
That view was backed up by Top League MVP Takaaki Nakazuru, who will play on the right wing despite being named in the No. 11 jersey.
“I seem to be playing a lot wider out with the Sunwolves than with (club side) Suntory,” the Sungoliath flyer said following training at Honjo Stadium.
Last year’s captain Shota Horie starts Saturday’s game at hooker alongside Masataka Mikami and Heiichiro Ito, with Liaki Moli and Naohiro Kotaki pairing up in the engine room.
In the backs, Kaito Shigeno is picked ahead of Fumiaki Tanaka at scrumhalf with Hayden Cripps at flyhalf.
Coca-Cola Red Sparks clubmates Timothy Lafaele and William Tupou were named as the centers with Nakazuru and Olympian Teruya Goto on the wings and Riaan Viljoen, one of the standout players for the Sunwolves last year, at fullback.
Tanaka and this season’s co-captain Harumichi Tatekawa are included on the bench, which contains a good mix of youth and experience.
Tiatia admitted injuries had played a role in his selection, as he has just 31 of his 51-strong squad in camp in Kitakyushu.
Nine players have been lent out to bolster the Top League side, a further nine have been sent home to undergo reconditioning in order to get over some injuries, while two — utility back Michael Bond and wing Ataata Moeakiola — have yet to join the squad.
“That’s the reality of sport. You have casualties,” Tiatia said, adding that the walking wounded would be reassessed next week to see if they could be included in the mix for selection for the season opener.
As for the players lent out to the Top League side, which includes another of last year’s standouts in Derek Carpenter, Tiatia said: “With our massive squad it is a challenge to give everyone game time. But this is an opportunity for those players in the All-Star side to express themselves and an opportunity for them to put their hand up.”
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