The Sunwolves go into Saturday’s Super Rugby opener knowing they are missing some key players and that they are taking on the defending champions.
But for coach Filo Tiatia and captain Ed Quirk, that only makes the occasion all the more exciting.
“There’s no pressure on us,” Quirk said Friday after leading his side’s captain’s run at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground. “The Hurricanes are one of the best teams in the world, so I’ve just told the guys to go out and enjoy every moment.”
It was a view echoed by Tiatia, who knows the Wellington-based side better than most having played 57 times for it before he headed up to Japan in 2002 to play for Toyota Verblitz.
“The players are excited and so they should be, they are playing a good well-coached side,” the former All Black said.
A side that like the Sunwolves likes to play attacking rugby.
“When I used to play for the Hurricanes, a long, long time ago, the thing about the Hurricanes was to expect the unexpected,” Tiatia said. “They have a certain style and DNA that means they like to counter-attack and are unpredictable.”
And that is just the way the Sunwolves coach hopes his new team can upset the odds.
“There’s going to be an element of chess about things,” he said. “Let them read things one way and then do something different the next. We need to play quick and we need to play smart.”
But they will have to do it with an injury-decimated squad.
Scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka (calf strain) and center Harumichi Tatekawa (knock to the knee) are the latest to join the injured list, putting even more pressure on new flyhalf Hikaru Tamura, who would normally expect the two veterans to be playing either side of him.
But Quirk is confident the 23-year-old, whose older brother Yu is another of the walking wounded, will come through the challenge.
“Junior is our general tomorrow, our main man,” Quirk said. “He will be the one choosing what we do and when we do it. Losing those two guys (Tanaka and Tatekawa) is massive for us. But it’s a good opportunity for the young players to get blooded in Super Rugby.”
Tiatia agreed, saying Tamura “is similar to his older brother in that he thinks quickly on his feet, likes to attack the line and has a good kicking game. He’s new to the Super Rugby environment but he’s not there by himself. He has some experience around him.”
That experience comes in the form of Derek Carpenter, who partners Timothy Lafaele in the midfield, and Tiatia said he expected both centers to vary their role during the game, rather than playing a straight inside and outside partnership.
“Both are smart football players and we will certainly utilize Lafaele’s left boot,” he said.
Quite how much ball they get though will depend on the forwards.
“We’re not the biggest pack in the world but we will look to muscle up,” said Quirk when asked how he wanted his team to play.
The Sunwolves showed last year that they could match the best in the competition for periods of games, but an inability to last the distance saw them lose matches they could have perhaps won.
Against the reigning champions, the general feeling is they will have to play for the full 80 minutes just to stay in touch with the Hurricanes.
Tiatia, however, is hoping the Sunwolves can still show their own brand of rugby even if they are going “up against a well-oiled machine.”
“There’s no point going to a dance and not dancing,” he said.