21:00 2 March 2017
Rugby: Sunwolves make 4 changes for clash with Kings in Singapore
By Rich Freeman
SINGAPORE, March 2, Kyodo
The Sunwolves head into their Round 2 Super Rugby game against the Kings at Singapore National Stadium with just one concern in their starting line-up.
Kenki Fukuoka missed Thursday's training session at PESEB Training Ground but is expected to start on the left wing when the sides take to the field Saturday night at the Sunwolves home away from home.
"Kenki had a slight fever last night and at this stage (holding him out of training) is more precautionary than anything," head coach Filo Tiatia told Kyodo News. "His temperature is down and he was eating lunch so that is a good sign."
If Fukuoka does recover then the starting XV will show just four changes to the side that was handed something of a rugby lesson by the defending champions, the Hurricanes, last week in Tokyo.
In the forwards, Shokei Kin comes in at blindside flanker and provides the perfect link between the forwards and backs, who feature a brand new halfback pairing in Fumiaki Tanaka and Hayden Cripps.
Tanaka has recovered from a calf strain and Cripps is over the head knock he picked up two weeks ago in the warm-up game against the Top League All-Stars, and the pair is joined by Shota Emi at fullback.
The 25-year-old Emi came off the bench last week, and despite having limited experience in the No. 15, jersey looked a real threat from the back.
There are three potential Sunwolves debutants on the bench in No. 8 Shuhei Matsuhashi, center William Tupou and fullback Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.
Taulagi will start if Fukuoka fails to recover and the 23-year-old, whose previous Super Rugby experience came with the Reds, said he was looking forward to the game, despite only being called up to the squad this week.
"I got the call on Sunday," Taulagi said. "I expected to have a few weeks off so didn't even watch the game last Saturday. It's all been a bit of a blur and I can't wait to get back on the field and express myself."
Taulagi said he was pleasantly surprised to see the mood in the camp, despite the 83-17 loss to the Hurricanes.
"I thought the attitude would be very different but they had brushed aside the loss and were completely focused on the next game."
Much of that focus has been spent working on the defensive side of the game.
The Sunwolves had 52 percent of possession against the Hurricanes but paid the penalty for far too many missed tackles and loose passes.
"A number of their tries came down to missed one-on-one tackles and us gifting them tries by poor decision making and judgment," Tiatia explained.
The back row of Kin, captain Ed Quirk and Willie Britz should prove competitive at the breakdown, and with the Sunwolves set piece holding up well last week, the backs should once again have plenty of ball.
Much will, therefore, depend on the creativity of Tanaka and Cripps and the ability of centers Derek Carpenter and Timothy Lafaele to create room for Fukuoka, Emi and Takaaki Nakazuru.
"We need to use a smarter kicking game in different areas of the field and play tactically in the heat to force them to make mistakes that we can capitalize on," said Cripps, the only starting XV player making both his Super Rugby and Sunwolves debut.
Sunwolves 23-man squad to play Kings: Masataka Mikami, Shota Horie, Heiichiro Ito, Liaki Moli, Sam Wykes, Ed Quirk, Shokei Kin, Willie Britz, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hayden Cripps, Kenki Fukuoka, Derek Carpenter, Timothy Lafaele, Takaaki Nakazuru, Shota Emi Bench: Takeshi Hino, Koki Yamamoto, Takuma Asahara, Kotaro Yatabe, Shuhei Matsuhashi, Keisuke Uchida, William Tupou, Jamie-Jerry Taulagi