18:10 23 February 2017
Rugby: Sunwolves name inexperienced side to take on defending champions
By Rich Freeman
TOKYO, Feb. 23, Kyodo
Sunwolves coach Filo Tiatia named his 23-man squad Thursday for their Super Rugby opener against the defending champions from New Zealand the Hurricanes.
The starting XV for Saturday's game at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground contains nine players making their debut for the franchise, though two of them -- lock Sam Wykes and No. 8 Willie Britz -- have Super Rugby experience with other teams. A further three new caps are set to come off the bench.
Flanker Ed Quirk leads the side, which is notable for the absence of fellow co-captain Harumichi Tatekawa in the centers and scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka.
"We've got some players who are injured but we are pretty positive with who we have chosen," Tiatia said. "But we are under no illusion we are playing a very good team."
Masataka Mikami and Heiichiro Ito pack down in the front row either side of last year's captain Shota Horie. Wykes and Liaki Moli make up an experienced second row, while Quirk, Britz and Malgene Ilaua form a combative and athletic back row.
"We tried a few combinations in training and decided to reshuffle things," Tiatia said of the back row.
While the forwards have plenty of Super Rugby experience, with just Ito and Ilaua making their debuts, the backs are extremely raw.
Keisuke Uchida and Hikaru Tamura -- who both played for the Top League All-Stars in last week's warm-up game -- pair up at halfback. Derek Carpenter has a new Super Rugby center partner in Timothy Lafaele, while returning fullback Riaan Viljoen will need all his experience to mentor new wings Kenki Fukuoka and Takaaki Nakazuru.
Hooker Takeshi Hino, lock Kotaro Yatabe and wing Shota Emi will all get their first taste of Super Rugby if they come off the bench.
"It's the first time in the saddle for Hikaru in Super Rugby but he's got some very good players inside and outside him so I am excited for him," Tiatia said of the 23-year-old younger brother of Yu, who is one of the Sunwolves' walking wounded.
As for Top League MVP Nakazuru, Tiatia's advice was simple.
"Light it up mate and have fun."
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd, meanwhile, has opted to start a couple of his big guns, All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett and hooker Dane Coles, on the bench.
"Beauden and Dane are both following their return to play protocols and part of that is that they were always going to have a graduated entry into the Super Rugby season," Coles told the Hurricanes website.
"They're both key guys for us and there is no benefit in pushing them any faster than we need to, but they'll both have a part to play in Tokyo."
Scrumhalf TJ Perenara will lead the side with Coles starting on the pine and Otere Black is handed the No. 10 jersey.
The Hurricanes, who have three players making their Super Rugby debut in fullback Jordie Barrett, lock James Blackwell and reserve back-row forward Reed Prinsep, are the first New Zealand side to play the Sunwolves and Boyd said his squad were looking forward to the occasion.
"No doubt they (the Sunwolves) will be highly motivated to knock us off our perch. They are well coached and they gave some very good teams a hurry-up in Tokyo last season."
Sunwolves 23-man squad to play Hurricanes: Starting XV: Masataka Mikami, Shota Horie, Heiichiro Ito, Liaki Moli, Sam Wykes, Malgene Ilaua, Ed Quirk, Willie Britz, Keisuke Uchida, Hikaru Tamura, Kenki Fukuoka, Derek Carpenter, Timothy Lafaele, Takaaki Nakazuru, Riaan Viljoen Bench: Takeshi Hino, Koki Yamamoto, Takuma Asahara, Kotaro Yatabe, Shokei Kin, Kaito Shigeno, Ryohei Yamanaka, Shota Emi