Rugby

Sunwolves overhaul starting lineup for match against Chiefs

Kyodo

Sunwolves coach Jamie Joseph once again wielded the ax Thursday despite his team putting in one of its best ever performances last week in Johannesburg.

Joseph’s team to take on New Zealand’s Chiefs on Saturday in Tokyo shows 10 changes and two positional switches from the side that lost 40-38 to the Lions, Super Rugby finalists the last two years.

Willie Britz is promoted from the bench and will lead the side from No. 8 with Michael Leitch moving to blindside flanker and Ed Quirk coming in at openside for the Sunwolves, who are 0-3 this season.

Kazuki Himeno retains his spot at lock, where he is joined by Uwe Helu — who returns to action following a broken arm suffered playing for Japan against Australia on Nov. 4, 2017 — and there is an all-new front row in Keita Inagaki, Shota Horie and Hencus van Wyk.

“This team has to play at an intensity that is equal to the opposition,” Joseph said. “So as coaches we have used new players coming in to provide that intensity.

“Inagaki and Shota have had two weeks of hard training and they will provide us with some needed experience and energy.”

“Uwe is a big physical man and we are playing a physical team and Ed Quirk has freshened up and had minimal game time and is hungry.”

In the backs, Fumiaki Tanaka and Yu Tamura return at halfback with Michael Little keeping his spot at inside center where he is partnered by the returning Timothy Lafaele.

“It’s nice to have Tamura back as we haven’t had a specialist first five-eighth (flyhalf) since Round 2,” Joseph commented.

Hosea Saumaki, who had an outstanding game against the Lions, keeps the No. 11 jersey with Kotaro Matsushima moving from fullback to right wing and Ryuji Noguchi starting at 15.

The replacements bench features a number of players who started last week, with Yusuke Niwai, Craig Millar and Koo Ji-won providing the front-row cover, and Wimpie van der Walt and Yoshitaka Tokunaga the two other backup forwards.

Yutaka Nagare, Robbie Robinson — who will be up against his cousins Damian and Marty McKenzie (the Chiefs’ flyhalf and fullback, respectively) — and William Tupou are the reserve backs.