Rugby: Sunwolves looking to get past some very familiar faces in warm-up game
The Sunwolves' only warm-up game before they start their 2017 Super Rugby campaign sees them play a side that on paper couldn't be any different from the Southern Hemisphere teams that they will face over the next six months.
The Top League All-Star side not only contains nine members of the Sunwolves squad, but is coached by Japan national coach Jamie Joseph.
And as they showed during their captain's run on Friday at the brand new Mikuni World Stadium, they are looking to play a fast-paced Japanese style of rugby.
"We will try a couple of different things but the game plan will be very similar," Joseph said. "We don't want to confuse the players we've got from the Sunwolves."
However the former All Black and Japan international backed up what Sunwolves coach Filo Tiatia hinted at the day before, in that the Top League side will try to do a few things to replicate what the Sunwolves will face over the course of the season against sides from New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina.
"We will try a few different things in defense and in attack because I know what they (the Sunwolves) will do as I have coached them," Joseph said. "And that's what the other teams will do as well."
Joseph said that the pressure was off his side and he hoped his team would be able to express themselves on the field, a view backed up by Derek Carpenter.
One of the Sunwolves' standout players last season, the New Zealand born center is one of the nine Super Rugby players playing for the Top League side on Saturday. And he hopes to use the occasion well.
"I qualify to play for Japan in April so training under Jamie has been great," he told Kyodo News. "This a great opportunity for me to put my hand up."
Carpenter forms an exciting backline with Andre Taylor at outside center, Akihito Yamada and Karne Hesketh on the wings and Jamie-Jerry Taulagi at fullback.
"If we can get the ball and play well who knows what will happen," said Joseph.
Tiatia's side will be doing all they can to prevent that happening, however.
The battle of the back rows will be key to the game with all six starters part of the Sunwolves squad.
Ed Quirk, Willie Britz and Shokei Kin start for the Super Rugby outfit with Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Yuhimaru Mimura and Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco wearing the Godzilla-adorned Top League shirts.
"It's going to be a good competition," said Tiatia. "We really need a contest because it all starts next week" against defending Super Rugby champions the Hurricanes from New Zealand.
Quirk, who leads the Sunwolves on Saturday, was also looking forward to taking on the Top League trio, saying "the young players will want to have a crack at the older bulls."
And as he pointed out, having so many players fighting for a place in the back row can only benefit the Sunwolves and Japan.
"It's going to be weird with both teams playing the same brand of rugby. But looking at the bigger picture it's going to be for the greater good and benefit us for what we do in the years ahead."
Hayden Cripps will also benefit in the short term if the Sunwolves get on top and provide him with enough ball.
The 26-year-old flyhalf has spent the last three seasons playing for Tokyo Gas in the second tier of Japanese rugby, and like Carpenter qualifies for Japan this year.
"This is a big step up," he said. "But I've good good players all around me so I only have to worry about my job. Whoever puts their hand up (tomorrow) will make a big claim to getting the starting jersey" for the game against the Hurricanes.