Sunwolves looking for marked improvement against Waratahs

by Rich Freeman


The Sunwolves face the New South Wales Waratahs on Saturday knowing they will need a marked improvement from their opening-round performance if they are to avoid the lopsided scores of previous encounters.

The Australians come into the game at Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground averaging 61 points against the Sunwolves, having won their previous three encounters by a combined score of 184-66.

With a side full of Australian internationals, they will be heavy favorites to keep their winning streak intact.

But they will be taking on a Sunwolves side looking for redemption in front of their Tokyo faithful, having started their season with a disappointing 45-10 loss to the Sharks at their home away from home in Singapore.

“We made too many mistakes and struggled with our discipline,” center Ryoto Nakamura said Friday following the Sunwolves’ captain’s run at the match venue.

They were also, as lock Luke Thompson pointed out, “dominated in terms of physicality, in the line-out and scrums.”

Hiroshi Yamashita’s first start in a Sunwolves jersey will add some stability to the front row, while the line-out battle could be a far more even affair given the relative lack of tall timber in the Waratahs.

The Waratahs won 77 percent off their own throw last week in a 20-19 loss to the Hurricanes, while the Sunwolves won 88 percent against the much taller Sharks.

Defense was also a major focus for the Sunwolves during the week, with emphasis on the structures put in place by acting head coach Scott Hansen rather than one-on-one hits, after completing a best-ever 91 percent of tackles last week.

“It was the first game out and the players were probably too keen to put a shoulder in, rather than think about the position they were in,” vice-captain Michael Little said, highlighting a tendency of the outside men to drift in and allow the Sharks to create easy overlaps. “But as the season goes on we will get quicker and better in that decision making.”

Given the talent the visitors possess in their backline, such an improvement in decision making will be vital.

The likes of Kurtley Beale, Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau provide what Waratahs flyhalf Bernard Foley described as “a number of attacking weapons . . . and we want to supply them with good front ball and that’s done by the hard work of the forwards up front.”

Those forwards showed they were more than useful with ball in hand on Friday as they beat the backs in a game of touch rugby.

“They are a class outfit that have won Super (in 2014), had a very good year last year (when they got to the semifinals) and have a very good roster,” Hansen said.

The Sunwolves were guilty at times last week of kicking away possession and Hansen said if his side does put boot to ball they need to stop the Waratahs in their tracks.

“The challenge for us is to stop their momentum. They are a team that opens the field up quickly through their counter-attack and they’ve got some individual stars right across the board, so the first thing for us is how we control the field position and how we control the ball.”

Hansen and the Sunwolves are unable to call upon a large number of Brave Blossoms, as the national team remains in a training camp along with Sunwolves head coach Tony Brown.

The Waratahs, by comparison, have named virtually their full contingent of Wallabies, with their only concern whether Adam Ashley-Cooper passes a late test to determine if he will be fit to take the bench following a head knock last week.

“You can see from the strength of the side we have picked, the respect we have given to the Sunwolves,” Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said.

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