SINGAPORE - Jumpei Ogura will be the man responsible for directing traffic Saturday as the Sunwolves look to pick up their first win of the 2017 Super Rugby season against the Cape Town-based Stormers.
The 24-year-old flyhalf — who has been well nurtured by Rob Penney and Hugh Reece-Edwards at NTT Communications Shining Arcs — makes his first start for the Sunwolves at Singapore National Stadium in a side showing five changes and three positional switches from the team beaten 34-21 by the Bulls in Pretoria last week.
“I am there to give the team direction and get the ball into space,” Ogura told Kyodo News on Thursday following the Sunwolves training session at the match venue.
“We need to push the attack line forward and make sure each attack gets over the gain line.”
Ogura replaces Hayden Cripps, who drops to the bench, while the other changes in the backs see Shota Emi switch to the wing to allow Jamie-Jerry Taulagi to move from outside center to fullback and Derek Carpenter return at inside center with Timothy Lafaele moving from 12 to 13.
In the forwards, Heiichiro Ito starts at loosehead prop, Liaki Moli returns at lock and Shokei Kin is handed the No. 7 jersey.
“One of the things I learned from my time with the Japan team in November is the need to bring in fresh legs when players are tired,” said Sunwolves assistant coach Atsushi Tanabe.
With the heat and humidity expected to take their toll on Saturday despite the closed roof — it was 32 C when the Sunwolves trained at 10 a.m. — the Sunwolves will need to work hard on retaining a slippery ball and make sure that they can turn pressure into points against a Stormers side that has started the season with three straight wins.
“Ogura brings a running threat to the team, though we will probably do a little more kicking (than last week) because of the heat and humidity,” Tanabe said.
The kicking game will also utilize the left boot of Lafaele and Taulagi’s howitzer of a right boot.
“We have been looking at mixing things up in attack and defense with Timothy and Derek Carpenter,” Tanabe said. “Derek didn’t get a lot of playing time at Suntory but is slowly getting back to match fitness and is improving every week.”
The Sunwolves bench will also need to make an impact and the team will need to avoid the one-directional play that allowed the Bulls to win despite being a man down.
“We need to make some good decisions as to when to offload and when not to, and we need to execute better,” said Tanabe. “And we just need to start believing in ourselves a bit more.”
Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck, meanwhile, handed World Sevens Player of the Year Seabelo Senatla his first start of the season. And with the Springbok pair of Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit rested, Junior Springbok Cobus Wiese is set to make his Super Rugby debut if he comes off the bench.
“We know it will be tough against the Sunwolves here in Singapore, but it is a challenge that excites us,” Fleck said.
Sunwolves starting XV: Koki Yamamoto, Yusuke Niwai, Heiichiro Ito, Liaki Moli, Sam Wykes, Ed Quirk, Shokei Kin, Willie Britz, Keisuke Uchida, Jumpei Ogura, Kenki Fukuoka, Derek Carpenter, Timothy Lafaele, Shota Emi, Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.
Bench: Atsushi Sakate, Masataka Mikami, Takuma Asahara, Uwe Helu, Shuhei Matsuhashi, Kaito Shigeno, Hayden Cripps, Ryohei Yamanaka.