Preview: Sunwolves v Chiefs

The Chiefs will be looking for their third successive win when they visit the Sunwolves at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

After an opening-day defeat to the Crusaders (45-23), the Hamilton outfit have bounced back with victories over the Blues (27-21) and Bulls (41-28).

The Sunwolves have lost their opening four games but can take plenty of positives from their 40-38 defeat to the Lions last time out.

Playing at a high-tempo and preferring a looser, unstructured style, the Sunwolves forced the Lions into making mistakes and were clinical in converting.

But they come up against one of the most potent attacking forces in the competition. The Chiefs (18) have made the most clean breaks per game this season, while the Sunwolves (10) have made the fewest.

The Sunwolves boast the highest scrum success rate in the competition with 97 percent. Coach Jamie Joseph has selected his most physical loose trio with Willie Britz and Michael Leitch either side of Ed Quirk to cope with Sam Cane and company.

It will be an historic occasion as it marks the first time the Chiefs have played in Japan and coach Colin Cooper is looking forward to the experience.

“We’re really excited to be here in Tokyo, Japan," Cooper said.

"It’s the first time the Chiefs have been here to play in this Super Rugby competition so it’s an historic occasion.

"We know how tough the Sunwolves will be to beat at their home ground so we’re focused on preparing really well for a tough match on Saturday afternoon."

This will be the third time the Sunwolves have hosted opposition from New Zealand (W1, L1), with the previous two games seeing a total of 169 points scored.

The last time the teams met: The Chiefs earned a 27-20 win in their only previous Super Rugby meeting with the Sunwolves, after taking a handy 20-3 lead into the half-time break on the day.

Players to watch:

For Sunwolves: Hosea Saumaki boasts an average gain of 11 metres per carry this season, the most of any player to have made at least 20 carries. According to Opta Sports he has also beaten the fifth-most defenders (18).

For Chiefs: Solomon Alaimalo has run 302 metres with ball in hand this season, the sixth highest of any player in the competition while he has made the second most clean breaks (12).

Team news: There is a rotational shift in the Sunwolves back three with Kotaro Matsushima moving from full-back to wing, while Ryuji Noguchi will wear the number 15 jersey.

Yu Tamura is at fly-half with Fumiaki Tanaka at scrum-half, while Michael Little replaces William Tupou at inside centre.

Japan captain Michael Leitch shifts from number eight to blindside, with Ed Quirk and Britz completing the loose trio.

Uwe Helu comes in at lock for Wimpie van der Walt, who is demoted to the bench. Finally, it is a brand new front-row for the Sunwolves, with Jiwon Koo, Yusuke Niwai and Craig Millar being replaced by Hencus van Wyk, Shota Horie and Keita Inagaki. 

Meanwhile, Canadian recruit Tyler Ardron comes into the Chiefs locking department to partner Brodie Retallick. It’s the Canadian’s first start for the team, after an impressive cameo off the bench against the Blues in round three. Taleni Seu also comes into the loose forwards after a rest last weekend.

In the backline, quick-footed Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi starts at scrum-half, after making a fantastic impact as a substitute against the Bulls last week. Speedster Toni Pulu is back from injury for the first time this season at right wing and Marty McKenzie starts at full-back with brother Damian moving to fly-half.

It is a special evening for Waikato youngster Bailyn Sullivan who is in line to make his Super Rugby debut off the bench in the number 23 jersey. Sullivan has been training with the squad throughout the pre-season and is also a member of the University of Waikato Chiefs Taua Development squad.

Previous result:

2017: Chiefs won 27-20 in Hamilton

Prediction: The Sunwolves' woes against New Zealand opposition will continue. Chiefs by 15.

The teams:

Sunwolves: 15 Ryuji Noguchi, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Michael Little, 11 Hosea Saumaki, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Willem Britz (c), 7 Edward Quirk, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Kazuki Himeno, 3 Hencus van Wyk, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Yusuke Niwai, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Jiwon Koo, 19 Wimpie van der Walt, 20 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 21 Yutaka Nagare, 22 Robbie Robinson, 23 William Tupou

Chiefs: 15 Marty McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Karl Tu’inukaufe, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Sean Wainui, 23 Bailyn Sullivan

Date: Saturday, March 24
Venue: Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium
Kick-off: 13:15 local (04:15 GMT)
Referee: William Houston (Australia)
Assistant referees: Aki Aso (Japan), Tasuku Kawahara (Japan)
TMO: Minoru Fuji (Japan)