SINGAPORE – The Sunwolves are looking to beat the same side twice straight and prove inconsistency is a thing of the past when they take on the Pretoria-based Bulls on Saturday at National Stadium.
The Japan’s Super Rugby franchise won 21-20 in Tokyo in April 2017, the last time the two sides met, and captain Willie Britz is hoping they can beat the same team twice in a row for the first time in their short history.
“It’s really important we show consistency and play good football,” he said after Friday’s captain’s run at the match venue. “We want to finish the season with three (more) wins.”
The Sunwolves have yet to win in the heat and humidity of Singapore, but they have come close on a number of occasions, including 2016 when they fell 30-27 to the Bulls under the roof of the National Stadium.
And their last game against South African opposition saw them beat the Stormers 26-23 in Hong Kong.
“We have been improving every week and are now a much more complete side that is capable of beating anyone in the competition,” said Tony Brown, who is standing in for head coach Jamie Joseph while he deals with a back injury.
The game should be a classic clash of styles with the big South African forwards looking to outmuscle the Japanese side, which in turn will look to run at every opportunity in the energy sapping conditions.
“We want to negate the set piece and play unstructured rugby,” said Brown.
“That means we will kick a lot and counter, and if we nail that we are in with a chance.”
Michael Little’s quick return from a dislocated patella will be key to that, given his form this season.
“Without doubt we want him on the field and leading the team at inside center after what appeared to be a season-ending injury,” Brown said of the Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars midfield back.
Gerhard van den Heever plays his second game for the Sunwolves following a long injury break, and Brown said he was hoping the fullback would “have a big game” against the side he played for in 31 games between 2009 and 2011.
“He’s trained really well and is ready to go.”
The Bulls left behind a number of injured players in South Africa, but the touring party does include a number with experience of playing in Japan.
Handre Pollard and Jessie Kriel were with the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes from 2015-16 while Jason Jenkins and RG Snyman have spent the last few seasons with the Toyota Verblitz and Honda Heat, respectively.
“You do benefit from it,” Pollard said when asked if his time in Japan helped when analyzing the Sunwolves’ style of rugby.
“You learn quite a bit, but that’s not really what we are focusing on. It is what it is. But we know they like to play with ball in hand, not kick too much and hold onto the ball as much as possible.”