Sunwolves assistant coach Atsushi Tanabe summed up the importance of Saturday’s Round 9 Super Rugby game with the Auckland-based Blues when he said “both teams are desperate.”
Speaking Friday after his team’s captain’s run at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, Tanabe said the game — between the team propping up the Australian Conference and the last-place team in the New Zealand Conference — would “be all about who makes the least errors.”
And with confidence low in both camps, it will be all about who starts best.
“We can’t chase the game and turn it around,” Tanabe said. “We have to start well and we have to make our tackles.”
Despite their poor starts — the Sunwolves are 0-6 and the Blues 1-5 — both teams rank highly in terms of passes made per game with the Blues third with 160 and the Sunwolves sixth with 149.2.
Last week’s 50-29 loss to the Waratahs saw the Sunwolves’ defensive frailties exposed once again, though there seemed to be a slight difference in opinion as to where the fault lay.
“The set-piece defense is OK, it’s when we turn the ball over. When that happens props are expected to tackle backs and it’s difficult for these guys,” head coach Jamie Joseph said earlier in the week.
However, the match stats would seem to indicate that the forwards were making their tackles while the outside backs were struggling, particularly with their one-on-one tackles.
“The coaches can’t (make the tackles). The players have to take responsibility,” Tanabe said, echoing Joseph’s statement from Thursday that defense had been high on the agenda during the week’s training sessions.
The line-out was also a major area for work, as the Sunwolves look to improve on their 78 percent success rate — the worst in the competition.
“We have a good plan for tomorrow and some good jumpers so if it’s not too windy we can hopefully get it to 100 percent,” said Grant Hattingh, coming into the Sunwolves starting XV as the only change from last week.
The 201-cm South African said personal errors and a lack of timing had been the problems rather than communication, though he did admit the team had some unique challenges.
“I think there are nine different nationalities in the team. But everyone speaks some basic Japanese so while it is a small obstacle there are no alarm bells,” he said before adding with a smile, “The only challenge is getting the Georgians to speak Japanese.”
Jaba Bregvadze and Nikoloz Khatiashvili showed last week they are more than happy to mix it with the opposition and that abrasive nature will be needed if the Sunwolves are to repeat last year’s 48-21 victory.
“We are up against a determined side and will have to be at our best. We have not been performing as we would have liked and are determined to do well here,” said Blues coach Tana Umaga, whose side is missing a number of key players, including Sonny Bill Williams, Jerome Kaino, Augustine Pulu and Goerge Moala.
Tokyo-born Akira Ioane and younger brother Rieko — whose father Eddie played for Ricoh in the 1990s — will spearhead the Blues’ effort from No. 8 and inside center, respectively.
“We need to keep positive and have confidence in the things we do,” said Umaga.
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