Its rivalry round in Tokyo, as two of the oldest of Australian Conference foes meet at the picturesque Prince Chichibu Stadium for the second time in as many years. The Sunwolves will be looking forward to getting home on Saturday afternoon after impressing in the last three rounds of Super Rugby. The Reds on the other hand will be desperate to notch their first win of the season but, perhaps more importantly, break their longest losing streak against the Sunwolves in Japan in their history.
Neither team would have looked at their draw and been particularly enamored at what the scheduled held for the first four weeks. In fact both teams probably would have had this fixture circled as an opportunity for a little respite from the top tier teams. As it stands, the Sunwolves have probably surprised most in going down to the Tahs by 1 point in Round 2 and then backing up to beat the Chiefs away in Round 3. All this despite not having the majority of their international players as they prepare for the RWC.
If you were to chart the performances of the Reds on a graph, then it would likely be a steady decline. From the highs of a first round bye to their frustrating efforts against the Tahs in Sydney last week. In reality the 2nd round performance in their loss to the Highlanders gave their beleaguered (and former) supporters a glimmer of hope and us, overly optimistic fans were able to scramble together some positives in their loss to a weakened Crusaders team. The Tah game though? There’s not too much we could take from that barring a couple of individual performances.
What an intriguing history these two great rivals have. Dating all the way back to the mid-2016s when they first met, when names like Browning, Neville, Matjiwow and (of course) Goromaru were running around for the Reds. On that sunny afternoon at Suncorp, with the local Japanese community coming out in force to cheer on their beloved Ed Quirk, the Sunwolves gave the Reds a hell of a fright before the home team closed out the match for a 35-25 victory.
The return clash, in true Hollywood tension building mode, would not eventuate for another 23 months and 21 days. This time the Sunwolves would be the hosts and they will pull out a performance that would shock the rugby world. Well perhaps just the western world because, following the Japanese knocking off the Spingboks in the last RWC, these types of upsets are more anticipated than unexpected. In a remarkable afternoon of rugby the Sunwolves were as excellent as the Reds were dire and ran away winners 63-28 highlighted by a personal haul from flyhalf Hayden Parker of 36 points.
Retribution would flow from the Reds when they returned to their home base of Suncorp Stadium to once again host the Sunwolves, this time in the last round of the 2018 season. The home team would celebrate, arguably, their most impressive win of the season and run away 48-27 winners, delivering departing players Jono Lance and Eto Nabuli the perfect send off.
TOP OPTA FACTS
- This will be the fourth Super Rugby meeting between the Sunwolves and the Reds, with each of the previous three won by the home team on the day.
- The Sunwolves have earned competition points in four of their last five Super Rugby games on home turf (W4, 1LBP).
- The Reds have lost their last eight games in a row away from home in Super Rugby, conceding an average of 39 points per game in that period.
- The Sunwolves’ 100% goal- kicking success rate continues for a fourth round; they remain the only team with a flawless record in front of the uprights (18/18).
- Reds’ Harry Hockings won eight lineouts in Round 4, more than any other player (excluding steals); the last time any Reds player won more in a single Super Rugby game was in June 2015 (Jake Schatz -9)
The Reds have made a bunch of changes from last week, the most significant being the non-selection of Izack Rodd and Taniela Tupou who are on ‘Rugby Australia Workload Management Leave’. It sees Lukhan Salakai-Loto moves back to lock with Angus Scott-Young ensuring we still have a hyphenated name on the side of the scrum. Ruan Smith will join his twin brother in the starting side for the first time this year.
Out wide, Isaac Lucas has been named at flyhalf, replacing the injured Bryce Hegarty, which opens up the fullback spot for Hamish Stewart (where he first featured for Queensland in the corresponding game last year). A shuffle of the bench sees us with two loosehead prop reserves and potentially the first sighting of Filipo Daugunu this season.
The Sunwolves selectors haven’t sad idle either with even more changes than the Reds. Jason Emery moves from the centres to fullback, relegating Semisi Masirewa to the bench. It means Japanes international Sione Teaupa will start at 13 in a potentially damaging centre combination with his skipper, Michael Litte. Further out, another Tongan born player Hosea Saumaki will start on the wing.
Significantly, flyhalf Hayden Parker is back in the starting team after being on the bench last week, ready to torment the Reds as he did this match last year. In the backrow we get to see former QLD Schoolboy star, and Gunnedah product, Ben Gunter get his chance at blindside. And speaking of backrower, the most notable change to the team is the selection of former Australian Super Rugby player of the year, Amanaki Mafi (still fighting assault chargers) named on the bench.
Sunwolves: 15 Jason Emery, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Sione Teaupa, 12 Michael Little (c), 11 Hosea Saumaki, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Jamie Booth, 8 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 7 Dan Pryor, 6 Ben Gunter, 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Tom Rowe, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Pauliasi Manu Substitutes: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 James Moore, 20 Amanaki Mafi, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Semisi Masirewa
Reds: 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi (c), 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Isaac Lucas, 9 Moses Sorovi, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Harry Hockings, 4 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 JP Smith Substitutes: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa , 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Feao Fotuaika, 19 Angus Blythe, 20 Caleb Timu, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Teti Tela, 23 Filipo Daugunu
KEY MATCH UPS:
Flyhalves: Hayden Parker is back in the starting line-up after having a ‘break’ on the bench last weekend. His selection provides the Sunwolves, not only a dead-eye dick of a goal kicker, but a controlling play maker capable of setting his dangerous backline alight. Opposite him will be the extremely talented rookie, Isaac Lucas, who has been thrown the much shared Queensland 10 jersey in just his second start. How much Lucas can free up his fellow backs, and how much the team can stymie Parker, will go a fair way to deciding this match.
Blindsides: As mentioned, the former Brisbane based BBC backrower, Ben Gunter will make his Sunwolves debut as a stepping stone to his potential RWC selection later this year. The massive 21 year old is an imposing figure capable of making his presence felt on either side of the ball. Angus Scott-Young, meanwhile, has made his way back into the starting team thanks to the resting of Izack Rodda. Scott-Young doesn’t have the physically imposing stature of Gunter, and is less likely to make the dynamic impact of his opposite number. But ASY will be critical in ensuring the Sunwolves pack don’t get a roll on and, more importantly, will need to work his but off to chase the ball the home team’s backline is likely to throw around.
FEARLESS FUL PREDICTION
With absolutely no confidence or reason behind it I think the Reds will win by 2.
Date: Saturday 16 March, 2019
Kick off: 1:15pm local time (2:15pm QLD time)
Venue: Prince Chichibu Stadium, Tokyo
Referee: Damon Murphy
Assistant Referees: Shuhei Kubo& Aki Aso
TMO: Minoru Fuji
Weather forecast: Early showers – 13 °C