Sunwolves stand-in head coach Tony Brown recalled some big guns Thursday for the Super Rugby clash with the Waratahs at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium on Saturday.
Michael Leitch, Kazuki Himeno and Yutaka Nagare return to the side as they look to pick up their first-ever win outside their home grounds of Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Up against the top side in the Australian Conference, the Sunwolves are looking to close out their season in style by putting together three straight wins and make it five from their last seven.
Having beaten South Africa’s Bulls last week in Singapore, the Sunwolves (3-11) finish their term next week against the Reds, a side they could climb above in the standings if results go their way.
“We had a really good performance in Singapore against the Bulls and some players played really well so they will get another opportunity,” Brown said after naming his 23-man squad.
“The Waratahs (8-1-5) are a quality team and they are leading the Australian Conference, so it will be a tough battle. But one that we are pretty confident we will do well in.”
Nagare, who skippers the side, replaces Keisuke Uchida (rib cartilage injury) at scrumhalf, one of just two changes in the backline.
The 25-year-old partners with Hayden Parker with Michael Little — the Super Rugby Player of the Week for Round 17 — and Jason Emery in the centers.
Wings Akihito Yamada and Semisi Masirewa are joined by Ryuji Noguchi in the back three, the fullback replacing Gerhard van den Heever, who injured his left calf last week.
“The Waratahs are one of the better sides in the competition,” said Little. “They are dangerous all around the paddock so I expect a tough game.
“The last game against them (a 50-29 win for the Australians in Tokyo on April 7) we let them run around too much. So we need to shut them down and attack.”
In the forwards, Leitch (blindside flanker) and Himeno (No. 8) link up with Ed Quirk in an all-new back row, the latter replacing Shunsuke Nunomaki, who is ruled out with concussion.
“We have some fresh legs coming in, guys like Leitch and Himeno. I’m looking forward to them bringing a lot of energy to the team,” Brown said.
Grant Hattingh, who started last week’s game on the bench, comes in for Uwe Helu (hamstring injury) and pairs up with James Moore in the second row behind an unchanged front row in Craig Millar, Jaba Bregvadze and Takuma Asahara.
“The Waratahs have a lot of X-factor players that can beat you one-on-one from anywhere, so stopping those players will be crucial for us,” Brown said.
Yusuke Niwai, Keita Inagaki and Hencus van Wyk provide the front-row cover, with Wimpie van der Walt and Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco the two other reserve forwards.
Fumiaki Tanaka, Rikiya Matsuda and Ryoto Nakamura remain the backup backs.
“Same as everyone, two wins from the last two games,” Little said when asked how he hoped the Australia tour and season would end.