Preview: Sunwolves v Bulls

Date published: March 25 2016

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The Sunwolves face another daunting task when they host the Bulls in their fourth Super Rugby match, in Singapore on Saturday.

The men from Tokyo have found the going tough in their first season in the competition, with their three previous matches all finishing in defeat and they will have to be at their best if they want to beat the three-time champions this weekend.

The Sunwolves have come off second best in the forward exchanges in their previous fixtures – against the Lions, Cheetahs and Rebels – and they can expect another tough challenge in that department from the Bulls, who have gained a reputation over the years for their outstanding forward play.

The Bulls have the third highest scrum success rate (92 percent) in the competition although the Sunwolves haven't disgraced themselves in that facet of play and are eighth overall with 88 percent.

Where Mark Hammett's outfit are struggling though are in the line-outs, where they have the lowest success rate in the tournament (75.9 percent) while the Bulls are seventh with 87.8 percent.

But unlike Bulls teams from previous years, this year's side doesn't rely on forward dominance alone to win them matches.

Under the guidance of new head coach Nollis Marais, the men from Pretoria have added an element of flair to their game and in players like Warrick Gelant, Jesse Kriel and Bjorn Basson they possess potent game-breakers, who have the potential to wreak havoc in the Sunwolves defence if they find themselves in space with ball in hand.

Losing Springbok pivot Handré Pollard to injury has been a major setback for the Bulls with Tian Schoeman and Francois Brummer alternating in the number ten jersey in matches this year – against the Stormers, Rebels and Sharks.

Schoeman gets his chance to call the shots in this clash and his battle with Sunwolves counterpart Tusi Pisi should be one of the highlights of this clash.

Players to watch: Sunwolves openside flanker Andrew Durutalo has caught the eye with some impressive displays in their previous matches. The USA international make a nuisance of himself at the breakdowns but is also a fine ball carrier. He has also represented his country at Sevens level and posseses a good skill-set which makes him a threat on attack but is also solid on defence with a high work-rate.

Keep an eye on Bulls full-back Warrick Gelant, who is one of the rising stars of the South African game. A brilliant counter-attacker, Gelant's game-breaking skills earned him the man-of-the-match award against the Sharks last weekend. Gelant has made the Bulls' number 15 jersey his own this season and plays a vital part in his side's new expansive game-plan. If he gets the ball in space, he will difficult to contain.

Team news: Sunwolves boss Mark Hammett has rung the changes to his starting lineup after last weekend's home loss to the Rebels. Akihito Yamada switches from right to left wing replacing Mifiposeti Paea, with Viliami Lolohea coming in to wear the number 14 jersey. At scrum-half, Kaito Shigeno takes over from Atsushi Hiwasa in the only other back-line change. In the pack,  Tomas Leonardi rotates with Ed Quirk while Liaki Moli comes in to the second row where he replaces the suspended Timothy Bond.

The Bulls have handed Tian Schoeman, Jason Jenkins and Lizo Gqoboka their debut starts in the tournament.  Schoeman replaces Francois Brummer while Gqoboka comes in for Trevor Nyakane. The other replacement in the backline sees Jesse Kriel come in for fellow Springbok Jan Serfontein.The injury to Grant Hattingh – who hasn't travelled with the team – hands Jenkins his start. 
 
Form: The Sunwolves are still chasing their first-ever Super Rugby victory. They lost 26-13 at home to the Lions in their opener before suffering a 32-31 defeat to the Cheetahs in Round Three and were outplayed in last weekend's 35-9 defeat to the Rebels.

The Bulls made a poor start to the season, losing 33-9 to the Stormers in Cape Town but bounced back with a 45-25 win over the Rebels. They had a bye in Round Three before drawing 16-16 with the Sharks in Pretoria last weekend.

Prediction: The Sunwolves must play out of their skins if they want to secure that elusive first win. It's unlikely to happen though and the Bulls' experience will come through in the end. Bulls to win by eight points.
 
The teams:

Sunwolves: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Viliami Lolohea, 13 Harumichi Tatekawa , 12 Yu Tamura, 11 Akihito Yamada, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Tomas Leonardi, 7 Andrew Durutalo, 6 Yoshiya Hosoda, 5 Liaki Moli, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Takuma Asahara, 2 Shota Horie (c), 1 Keith Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Futoshi Mori,17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Shinosuke Kakinaga, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Ed Quirk, 21  Yuki Yatomi, 22 Mifiposeti Paea, 23 Yasutaka Sasakura

Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Lizo Gqoboka
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Pierre Schoeman, 19 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 20 Nic de Jager, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Jan Serfontein

Date: Saturday, March 26
Venue: Singapore National Stadium, Singapore
Kick-off: 18:55 local (10:55 GMT)
Referee: William Houston 
Assistant Referees: Shuhei Kubo, Aki Aso
TMO: Takashi Hareda

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