Preview: Sunwolves v Rebels

Date published: March 18 2016

Tournament newbies the Sunwolves will be hoping it is third time lucky when they host the Melbourne Rebels in Tokyo on Saturday.

The Sunwolves performed admirably in their two previous matches – against the Lions and Cheetahs – but finished on the losing end on both occasions.

Sunwolves captain and hooker Shota Horie as well as Samoa fly-half Tusi Pisi caught the eye with impressive individual efforts in their previous matches.

Horie and Pisi came to the fore with their respective leadership and playmaking skills during difficult situations, against the Cheetahs and Lions, and if the men from Tokyo want to register that highly sought-after first win, this experienced duo will have to be at their best.

The Rebels have made an impressive start with two victories from their first three matches. They have a nice mix of experience and youth with the likes of All Blacks duo Tamati Ellison, Adam Thomson and stand-in captain Sean McMahon leading the carge.

Their head coach Tony McGahan is not underestimating the Sunwolves either and expects a tough assignment for his troops.

“We’re expecting a very passionate, fast paced and technical game from the Sunwolves on Saturday,” he said.

“For a new side, they continue to impress with their development, and we expect nothing less again this weekend, so we’re prepared for a difficult challenge in a new environment for many of the players.”

Players to watch: After scoring a first-half hat-trick against the Cheetahs last weekend, all eyes will be on Sunwolves right winger Akihito Yamada. The flyer has plenty of pace and showed his class with superb finishing against the men from Bloemfontein. He will be a marked man against the Rebels. 

Wallaby blindside flanker Sean McMahon's stocks continue to rise thanks to superb performances in the Rebels' previous matches against the Force and Bulls. The 21-year-old has impressed with his physicality as a ball carrier but also gets through plenty of work off the ball especially on defence where he regularly puts his body on the line. McMahon plays with a maturity beyond his years and has led by example as the Rebels' stand-in skipper during Nic Stirzaker's spell on the sidelines. 

Team News: Sunwolves boss Mark Hammett has made three changes to his run-on side. Amongst the backs, Mifiposeti Paea coming in to the starting line-up on the left wing where he takes over from Yasutaka Sasakura. In the forwards, Yoshiya Hosoda replaces Liaki Moli on the blindside flank while Takuma Asahara takes over from Shinnosuke Kakinaga at tighthead prop.

Rebels head coach Tony McGahan has made two changes to his run-on team with Tamati Ellison clear of concussion after missing the team’s two-point victory over the Reds last weekend and Pat Leafa starting at hooker. They also welcome back captain Nic Stirzaker and Scott Fuglistaller. The pair have been named as reserves in the 23-player team with Stirzaker returning from a shoulder reconstruction and Fugistaller overcoming a hip injury to be selected for the first time this season.

Form: Despite being winless, the Sunwolves have impressed in their two previous fixtures. They suffered a 26-13 defeat to the Lions in their opener in Tokyo and then had a bye in Round Two. And last weekend, they threw away a 31-13 lead before losing 32-31 to the Cheetahs in Singapore.

The Rebels kicked off their campaign with a 25-19 triumph over the Western Force in Perth before suffering a 45-25 loss away to the Bulls. They bounced back with a narrow 25-23 victory over the Reds last weekend.

Prediction: This should be another closely contested fixture involving the home side but like last weekend, they will fall just short. Rebels to win by five points.

The teams:

Sunwolves: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Harumichi Tatekawa, 12 Yu Tamura, 11 Mifiposeti Paea, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Atsushi Hiwasa, 8 Edward Quirk, 7 Andrew Durutalo, 6 Yoshiya Hosoda, 5 Timothy Bond, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Takuma Asahara, 2 Shota Horie (c), 1 Keith Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Tomas leonardi, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Derek Carpenter, 23 Yasutaka Sasakura.

Melbourne Rebels: 15 Jonah Placid, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Sean McMahon (c), 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith 
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Scott Fuglistaller, 21 Nic Stirzaker, 22 Dan Hawkins, 23 Sione Tuipulotu

Date: Saturday, March 19
Venue: Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo
Kick-off: 13:15 local (04:15 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Referees: Shuhei Kubo, Noriaki Hashimoto
TMO: Takashi Hareda