The Sunwolves will face the Chiefs on Saturday in Hamilton, New Zealand, looking to make history and record their first-ever win away from home.
Over the past three seasons, the Japanese Super Rugby franchise struggled on the road, recording all of its wins in Tokyo and homes away from home Singapore and Hong Kong. However, the Sunwolves’ next opponents have, like them, started the 2019 season with two losses.
“We know they’ve had two losses and will come out firing but we’re prepared for that,” said Michael Little, who will lead the Sunwolves from inside center.
But his side — which started with a big loss to the Sharks before losing by a point to the Waratahs — will have to do it without two of its most experienced players.
Co-captain Craig Millar and Ed Quirk picked up serious foot and knee injuries, respectively, last weekend and their absence has forced interim head coach Scott Hansen to make a number of changes.
“The loss of Millar and Quirk has been sore but the boys have really started to step up and take a lead on it,” Little said.
Pauliasi Manu takes over from Millar at loosehead prop and Shuhei Matsuhashi replaces Quirk at flanker in a pack that shows two other changes.
Luke Thompson gets a new partner in the second row in Uwe Helu, with Tom Rowe dropping to the bench, while Atsushi Sakate takes over from Jaba Bregvadze at hooker.
Hiroshi Yamashita keeps his spot at loosehead, ensuring he will face the side he turned out for in 2016, while Hendrik Tui and Rahboni Waren-Vosayaco will be looking to continue its good form in the back row.
In the backs, Kaito Shigeno and Hayden Parker line up at halfback with Little getting his first start following Ryota Nakamura’s “transfer” to Japan’s extended Rugby World Cup training squad.
Shane Gates, Gerhard van den Heever and Jason Emery keep their spots at 13, 14, and 15, respectively, while Japan international Jamie Henry is set to make his Super Rugby debut on the left wing.
Among the replacements, Nathan Vella and Jamie Booth are both set to make their debuts for the Sunwolves.
For the Chiefs, Japan international Ataata Moeakiola has been named on the bench, while Yamashita will be up against his Kobe Kobelco Steelers club mate from the 2018-19 season in Aidan Ross.
The two teams have met twice before with the Chiefs winning 27-20 in Hamilton in 2017 and 61-10 in Tokyo in 2018.