Ed Quirk returns from injury and will lead the Sunwolves against the Crusaders at Christchurch’s AMI Stadium on Friday, in what will be the Japanese franchise’s first game on New Zealand soil.
The Australian-born flanker leads a side that shows eight changes from the team that started last Saturday’s win over South Africa’s Bulls.
“The win against the Bulls in Tokyo last week was a wonderful achievement that we as a team, the organization and the fans alike thoroughly enjoyed,” head coach Filo Tiatia said in a press release Wednesday. “We have been in good spirits since we arrived in New Zealand this week, however we are very aware of what lies ahead this Friday night against the Crusaders.”
Tiatia’s 23-man squad contains two players making their Super Rugby debuts in wing Teruya Goto and reserve flanker Yuhimaru Mimura.
“I understand one of my roles is to tackle my opponents as many times as possible, and I will be focusing on that,” said Mimura, who admitted he was a fan of the Christchurch-based side.
There is a new front row with Keita Inagaki and Takuma Asahara packing down either side of Takeshi Kizu.
Sam Wykes is promoted from the bench and will join Liaki Moli in the second row, while Quirk is joined in the back row by Shunsuke Nunomaki, who impressed coming off the bench last week, and Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, who scored seven minutes into his Super Rugby debut against the Bulls.
Yu Tamura, whose second-half performance last week at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground helped turn the game around, is handed the No. 10 jersey and will pair up with Fumiaki Tanaka.
Timothy Lafaele and Derek Carpenter keep their spots in the midfield with Goto joining Takaaki Nakazuru and Kotaro Matsushima in the back three.
“My main role is to score tries and I will focus on attacking with ball in hand,” said Goto, who was part of the Japan squad that finished fourth at the Rio Olympics.
Yusuke Niwai, Koki Yamamoto and Heiichiro Ito provide the cover for the front row. Shinya Makabe makes a long awaited return to action as the second row cover with Mimura the other replacement forward.
Yuki Yatomi, William Tupou and Jamie-Jerry Taulagi add experience, power and the x-factor as the reserve backs.
Earlier Wednesday in Auckland, the pack got in some unusual extra training after witnessing a car accident from the team bus.
The Sunwolves forwards used their strength to shift a car to the side of the road and then onto the sidewalk to ensure the road remained clear and earn praise from local media, who dubbed them “superheroes.”
Meanwhile, the Crusaders team includes All Blacks captain Kieran Read, who returns from injury to play his first game of the 2017 season, and prop Wayne Crockett, who will become the most capped player in Super Rugby history when he takes the field, the 34-year-old making his 176th appearance for the Crusaders.
Tim Bateman, who spent a number of seasons with Coca-Cola Red Sparks is named at inside center, while the seven-time Super Rugby champions are coached by Scott Robertson, who finished his illustrious playing career with Ricoh Black Rams.
The Crusaders will also have the distinction of an uncle and nephew, Seta Tamanivalu and Manasa Mataele, playing on the wings.