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    Sunwolves add veteran steel for 'Tahs visit

    2019-02-22 10:46

    Tokyo - Operating under the growing threat of being booted out of Super Rugby, Japan's Sunwolves have tweaked their pack for Saturday's crunch home game against the Waratahs.

    Kick-off is at 06:15 SA time.

    Acting head coach Scott Hansen has made four changes to the side that were thumped 45-10 by the Sharks in last week's opener in Singapore, with veteran Hiroshi Yamashita coming in at tighthead prop to beef up their creaking scrum for Saturday's Tokyo clash.

    Yamashita, who played for Japan at the 2015 World Cup when the Brave Blossoms won three games, including a famous victory over South Africa, replaces Asaeli Ai Valu for his first Wolves start while Tim Rowe takes over from James Moore at lock.

    "I wonder when I'll get a breather," joked Yamashita when asked if he worried about running out of puff.

    "It's my job to get ball to the backs. Our rivals (Waratahs) are full of famous players so it will be interesting to see how we fare."

    The Sunwolves take a woeful record into their fourth Super Rugby season and this weekend the Tokyo-based franchise are chasing just their seventh victory after three chastening seasons in the southern hemisphere's elite competition.

    "The priority is to galvanise our set piece," Hansen told local media.

    "It's a great opportunity for Yamashita - and the opportunity is there this week for him to give us that solid foundation. He has played over 50 tests for Japan and it's great for us to have him in the Sunwolves."

    Yamashita lines up alongside Craig Millar and Jaba Bregvadze with 37-year-old Luke Thompson partnering Rowe in an experienced pack.

    Head coach Tony Brown, assistant to Japan boss Jamie Joseph last season, has to perform a delicate balancing act this year with a bloated squad built largely to cater for the national team's World Cup preparations.

    But the New Zealander remains under extreme pressure to deliver results with the Sunwolves facing an uncertain future as Super Rugby bosses prepare to meet in March to discuss the competition's future format.

    Critics want the perennial wooden-spooners to be kicked out, pointing to their poor record and the fact they rely so heavily on imports -- with players from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Fiji, Tonga, Georgia and South Korea having pulled on the red shirt.

    Last week's thrashing by the Sharks has increased the pressure on them, but Hansen refused to panic.

    "We need to understand it was our first game," he said.

    "There are a lot of things we want to fix. We need to focus on the things that will give us the quickest growth this week and understand we will be better because of that first hit-out."

    The Waratahs, semi-finalists last year and champions in 2014, start as favourites, however, as they look to bounce back from a narrow 20-19 defeat by the Hurricanes last weekend.

    Tahs captain Michael Hooper promised an improved display after the Sydney-siders committed numerous sloppy handling errors and conceded 14 penalties against the Hurricanes.

    "Call them clunky, call them coach killers - but we had a few of them," he said.

    "We should sharpen those up with another game."

    Teams:

    Sunwolves

    15 Jason Emery, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Shane Gates, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 7 Ed Quirk, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Tom Rowe, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Craig Millar (captain)

    Substitutes: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Awe Helu, 20 James Moore, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Michael Little, 23 Rikiya Matsuda

    Waratahs

    15 Israel Folau, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Karmichael Hunt, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes

    Substitutes: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Lachlan Swinton, 20 Will Miller, 21 Mitch Short, 22 Mack Mason, 23 Cam Clark/Adam Ashley-Cooper

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    Fixtures

    Friday, 31 January 2020
    • Blues v Chiefs, Eden Park 08:05
    • Brumbies v Reds, GIO Stadium 10:15
    • Sharks v Bulls, Jonsson Kings Park Stadium 19:10
    Saturday, 01 February 2020
    • Sunwolves v Rebels, Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium 05:45
    • Crusaders v Waratahs, Trafalgar Park 08:05
    • Stormers v Hurricanes, Cape Town 15:05
    • Jaguares v Lions, Estadio Jose Amalfitani 23:40
    Friday, 07 February 2020
    • Highlanders v Sharks, Forsyth Barr Stadium 08:05
    • Brumbies v Rebels, GIO Stadium 10:15

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