Head coach Jamie Joseph made just two changes to his starting XV Wednesday as the Sunwolves go from facing the 2017 Super Rugby champions to taking on the 2016 winners.
Shota Horie and Takuma Asahara come in at hooker and tighthead prop, respectively, for Friday evening’s clash with the Hurricanes in Wellington, as Joseph rewards the players for their efforts last week in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Two late tries saw the Sunwolves go down 33-11 against the Crusaders last Saturday and left them 0-8 for the season. But it was a much better performance from Joseph’s team particularly in defense.
“We have tried to be as consistent as possible,” said Joseph. “I thought the Crusaders game we played a very good team and the players really stepped up.”
Horie (who has recovered from a concussion) and Asahara (who replaces Koo Ji-won, out for two weeks with a neck and shoulder injury) pack down with Craig Millar in the front row, with James Moore-— who signed for Munakata Sanix Blues this week — and Grant Hattingh in the engine room.
Lappies Labuschagne once again leads the side from openside flanker and lines up with Kazuki Himeno and Yoshitaka Tokunaga in the back row, while the backs are unchanged with Fumiaki Tanaka and Hayden Parker at halfback, Michael Little and Timothy Lafaele in the centers and Kenki Fukuoka, Hosea Saumaki and Will Tupou in the back three.
“We had a couple of soft moments last week in the second half and let in a couple of soft tries so this week we have to focus on making sure we play for the (full) 80 minutes,” Parker said.
Jaba Bregvadze drops to the bench and joins Shintaro Ishihara and Nikoloz Khatiashvili in providing the front-row cover, with Wimpie van der Walt and Ed Quirk the other two reserve forwards.
Yutaka Nagare, Yu Tamura and Semisi Masirewa are the replacement backs.
“The Hurricanes are probably the best team in the competition,” said Joseph, no doubt recalling last year’s result when the New Zealand side won 83-17 in Tokyo.
“We have to get our line speed right, put them under pressure and take away their time and space by a faster defensive line.”
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