The Western Force jet set on their maiden voyage to Japan this weekend to take on the Sunwolves at Prince Chichibi Memorial Stadium in Tokyo.
Western Force – they are desperately looking for a reprieve from criticism with a win over the competition’s newcomers, who have proved to be competitive, and occasionally, dangerous.
They will have their hands full, after the Sunwolves claimed their first club win over the Jaguares in Round 9. The home team will be fresh coming off their bye last week, and will be eager to tear into the downtrodden Force side.
Expect the Force to slow the Sunwolves’ quick ball by disrupting them at the breakdown. But they will have to repair their fundamental malfunction from last week: it was their shoddy defence that caused them to go down by 22 points to the Bulls.
Sunwolves – after a string of disappointing results by the visitors, the Sunwolves will lift by the prospect of taking another scalp in front of their passionate home supporters.
They have looked at their most dangerous when their Samoan fly-half, Tusi Pisi, takes the ball to the defensive line and gets them on the front foot. They endeavour to play a fast-paced and expansive style of rugby which is in complete contrast to the Western Force way.
The Aussies play a more direct style, dominating the breakdown and building into the game from a solid defensive structure.
Sunwolves – enjoyed first win ever v Jaguares in Rd. 9
The statistics from this season suggest the Sunwolves have the wood over the Force.
They have outscored the Force by 180 points to 143
They have crossed for 20 tries compared to only 11 for the Force.
The metres-gained per carry suggests that the Sunwolves are more dangerous in attack. They have carried the ball 845 times for a total 3,361 metres, whereas the Force has carried the ball 100 more times, with 945 carries, but for a total of only 3,266 metres.
Peter Grant – fine tactician and goal-kicker
Tusi Pisi v Peter Grant
Tusi Pisi was instrumental in the Sunwolves’ win over the Jaguares in Rd.9, contributing 18 points with his boot and also setting up two of their three tries. His running is always a threat to the defensive line and his off-loading before or at the tackle gives a double threat.
Peter Grant, can occasionally take the ball up but his best attribute is controlling the game with tactical kicking. He has been outstanding in kicking from the tee this year; so the Sunwolves had better watch their discipline.
Ben McCalman v Eddie Quirk
The breakdown will be pivotal in this match. Ed Quirk needs to be a workhorse and help to clear the threats of the Western Force loose trio at the break down. If McCalman and the Force flankers dominate the breakdown, the electrifying and expansive style of rugby from the Sunwolves will cease to exist. McCalman is one the Force’s main ball runners and Quirk will need to be on his man like a rash and not allow him to gain easy metres with ball in hand.
McCalman will also have his work cut out defending in the 9-10 channels as Pisi will look to take the ball to the line and off-load to the big Sunvolwes ‘ball runners in these channels.
Riaan Viljoen v Dane Haylett-Petty
The South African fullback has plenty of experience at Super Rugby level, representing both the Cheetahs and the Sharks before making his move to Japan. The Sunwolves rely heavily on Vijoen because he has played the most minutes for them this season. His infield kicking is vital to the success of his team, and his ability to start a counter attack from the back is a real feature to his game.
Haylett-Petty has enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2016 and is a genuine chance of wearing the Wallaby gold this year. He is the Force’s most dangerous threat, and a feature of his game is his strength under the high ball. Haylett-Petty can evade the first defender from the back most times and be potent after that.
Akihito Yamada – fits right in with Sunwolves’ style of play
Players to watch
Akihito Yamada – has had a decorated career representing his country 15 times and starring for the Wild Knights in the Japan’s Top League competition. His transition to Super Rugby has not slowed him down because his speed and agility is integral to the Sunwolves expansive style of rugby. As the Sunwolve’s leading try scorer with five tries this season, the Force’s outside backs will have their hands full.
Hodgson is the workhorse of Australian rugby. He digs deep and competes in all facets of the of the game. Watch him be a menace in the breakdown, disrupting, slowing and turning over the Sunwolves’ ball. Hodgson is the competition’s leading tackler with 125 tackles; so expect him to put his body on the line and tackle non-stop.
Despite the stats, the Force will have too much experience for the Sunwolves. They will slow the game right down and make a mess of the breakdown.
They disrupt the ruck better than any other team in the competition and the Sunwolves don’t have the experience yet to counter that style of rugby.
It will be a grungy and physical affair and therefore I predict….
Force by 8
1. Masataka Mikami (c)
2. Shota Horie
3. Shinnosuke Kakinaga
4. Hitoshi Ono
5. Fa’atiga Lemalu
6. Liaki Moli
7. Andrew Durutalo
8. Ed Quirk
9. Kaito Shigeno
10. Tusi Pisi
11. John Stewart
12. Harumichi Tatekawa
13. Derek Carpenter
14. Akihito Yamada
15. Riaan Viljoen
16. Takeshi Kizu
17. Ziun Gu
18. Takuma Asahara
19. Yoshiya Hosoda
20. Taiyo Ando
21. Atsushi Hiwasa
22. Yu Tamura
23. Mifiposeti Paea
1. Francois Van Wyk
2. Harry Scoble
3. Guy Millar
4, Ross Haylett-Petty
5. Adam Coleman
6. Byrnard Stander
7. Matt Hodgson (c)
8. Ben McCalman
9. Alby Mathewson
11. Luke Morahan
12. Kyle Godwin
13. Solomoni Rasolea
14. Marcel Brache
15. Dane Haylett–Petty
16. Anaru Rangi
17. Chris Heiberg
18. Tetera Faulkner
19. Steve Mafi
20. Angus Cottrell
21. Ryan Louwrens
22. Peter Grant
23. Semi Masirewa
Match : Sunwolves v. Force
Date : Saturday, May 7
Venue : Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo
Kick Off : 14:15 local (16:15 AEST)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Referees: Paul Williams, Aki Aso
TMO: Takashi Hareda
Statistics courtesy of Opta Sports