Super Rugby will break new ground when the Sunwolves take on the Stormers in the tournament’s first-ever match in Hong Kong on Saturday.
As the home team in this fixture, the Sunwolves will be full of confidence as they head into the match after notching their first victory of the season last weekend, when they claimed a convincing 63-28 win against the Reds in Tokyo.
Meanwhile, the Stormers will be determined to return to winning ways after they suffered a 15-9 loss to the Chiefs in Cape Town in Round 13.
That result was a momentous one as it was the Stormers’ first home defeat of the season. A win over the Sunwolves will be equally significant for Robbie Fleck’s charges as it will be there first away triumph in 2018.
But achieving that is easier said than done as the Sunwolves dominated most facets of play in that win over the Reds and eventually outscored the Brisbane-based outfit six tries to four.
That victory was also their biggest ever win in the competition while Hayden Parker’s 36-point haul was a new point-scoring record for the Sunwolves.
Although the Stormers are the away side, they are undefeated in their four previous meetings with the Sunwolves thanks to three victories and a draw.
Head coach Fleck said his team are looking forward to being part of the first Super Rugby match to be played in Hong Kong.
“It is great to play in Hong Kong and break new ground, but we are here to do a job and the team is focused on the task at hand,” he said.
“Our preparations have gone well here and the players are determined to put together a convincing performance.”
The last time the teams met: The Stormers claimed a comfortable 52-15 win in a Round 16 encounter in Cape Town last year with Cheslin Kolbe contributing 19 points courtesy of a hat-trick of tries and two conversions. The home side’s other tries were scored by Damian Willemse (2), Dillyn Leyds (2) and Seabelo Senatla. Willemse also slotted four conversions. For the Sunwolves, Teruya Goto and Teruya Goto scored tries while Yu Tamura added a penalty and a conversion.
Players to watch:
For Sunwolves: Although the men from Tokyo have several game-breakers in their ranks, and a proven match-winner in Hayden Parker, don’t underestimate the influence of experienced flanker Michael Leitch. The Japan international is a rugged competitor who will put his body on the line for his team’s cause on attack and defence. His experience and physicality will be crucial in the forward battle where, like most South African teams, the Stormers will throw down the gauntlet.
For Stormers: With the impressive Damian Willemse on duty with South Africa’s team at the World Rugby U20 Championship in France, Jean-Luc du Plessis gets a chance to shine in the number 10 jersey for the Stormers. The 24-year-old spent a large part of the 2017 and 2018 campaigns on the sidelines, due to a serious groin injury, but returned to action via the bench during the recent matches against the Bulls and Chiefs. He will be expected to unleash the Stormers’ dangerous outside backs and to keep the scoreboard ticking with accurate goal-kicking.
Team news: Sunwolves head coach Jamie Joseph has made six alterations to his starting line-up for this fixture. In the back-line, Fumiaki Tanaka takes over at scrum-half from Yutaka Nagare.
There are two further injury enforced changes in the backs with Akihito Yamada coming in to replace Hosea Saumaki, who scored a hat-trick of tries against the Reds, on the wing and Kotaro Matsushima takes over from Semisi Masirewa at full-back after the latter dislocated a finger.
Saumaki is sidelined with a rib injury which is expected to keep him out for two weeks.
In the forwards, Kazuki Himeno has been ruled out due to a wisdom tooth extraction with Willie Britz taking his place at number eight while Sam Wykes replaces Wimpie van der Walt at lock and Shintaro Ishihara is preferred to Craig Millar at loosehead prop.
Meanwhile, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck has announced that lock Chris van Zyl will lead the side this weekend. Regular captain Siya Kolisi’s workload is being managed, which will see him play off the replacements bench.
As a result Cobus Wiese comes into the starting line-up on the flank, along with number eight Nizaam Carr and loosehead prop JC Janse van Rensburg, who replaces the injured Steven Kitshoff.
This will see prop Carlu Sadie come onto the replacements bench alongside lock Jan de Klerk and loose forwards Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Kolisi as forward cover.
There are two changes to the back-line, with Jean-Luc du Plessis making his first start of the campaign at fly-half and Seabelo Senatla coming in on the wing, with EW Viljoen amongst the replacements.
Form: The Sunwolves claimed their maiden win of the season when they beat the Reds in Tokyo last weekend. Prior to that result, they lost nine matches in a row. This included home defeats to the Brumbies, Rebels, Chiefs, Waratahs, Blues and losses on the road against the Sharks, Lions, Crusaders and Hurricanes.
The Stormers have been inconsistent this year, having won five and lost seven out of 12 matches. Last weekend’s loss to the Chiefs was their first home defeat of the year after victories against the Jaguares, Blues, Reds, Rebels and Bulls. They have also lost all their away matches – against the Waratahs, Crusaders, Highlanders, Bulls, Lions and Sharks.
Prediction: The Sunwolves will be brimming with confidence but although they should run the Stormers close, the visitors will take the spoils in the end. Stormers to win by five points.
2017: Stormers won 52-15 in Cape Town
2017: Stormers won 44-31 in Singapore
2016: The teams drew 17-17 in Singapore
2016: Stormers won 46-19 in Cape Town
Sunwolves: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Michael Little, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Willem Britz, 7 Edward Quirk, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Takuma Asahara, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Shintaro Ishihara
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 21 Yutaka Nagare, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Jason Emery
Stormers: 15 SP Marais, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Kobus van Dyk, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Chris van Zyl (c), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Carlu Sadie, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Paul de Wet, 23 EW Viljoen
Date: Saturday, May 19
Venue: Mong Kok Stadium, Hong Kong
Kick-off: 13:15 local (05:15 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Shuhei Kubo (Japan), Tasuku Kawahara (Japan)
Television match official: Minoru Fuji (Japan)