Stand-off Rikiya Matsuda has been handed his first ever Super Rugby start as Sunwolves head coach Scott Hansen has announced five changes from the team that defeated Chiefs last weekend for their historic first away victory in Super Rugby.
Sunwolves fill fancy their chances of making it back-to-back away wins in New Zealand, with the Blues winless this season in Super Rugby and yet to hit 25 points or more in a game in 2019. The Auckland outfit have lost eight of their last nine home games, which will give great hope to the Sunwolves in securing their second win of the season.
Youngster Matsuda, who plies his Top League rugby with Panasonic Wild Knights, replaces reliable goal-kicker Hayden Parker, who drops to the bench after starting all three matches to date this term. Parker’s absence may hit the Sunwolves hard with the stand-off boasting a 100% success-rate from the tee this season, slotting all 14 of his place kicks.
Matsuda is not the only change at half-back, with Kaito Shigeno’s rib injury he picked up against Chiefs keeping him out of this weekend’s game. In his place starts Jamie Booth, who starts from the off in a Sunwolves jersey for the first time.
It’s all change in the second row as Tome Rowe and James Moore replace Luke Thompson and Uwe Helu. 37-year-old Thomspon has been rested by Hansen after a couple of tireless shifts in recent weeks, which has seen him win the most tackles among all players in this season’s Super Rugby.
Both the front row of Pauliasi Manu, Atsushi Sakate and Hiroshi Yamashita and back row of Hendrik Tui, Shuhei Matsuhashi and Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco retain their places in the starting XV as Sunwolves look to secure unimaginable back-to-back wins in New Zealand.
The final change comes in the backs as Semisi Masirewa comes into the side in place of Shane Gates, who suffered a leg fracture against Chiefs and looks to be sidelined for the rest of the campaign
Masirewa comes into the team at full-back, meaning Jason Emery, who started at no.15 against Chiefs, slots in at outside centre alongside Michael Little.
Gerhard van den Heever again starts on the right wing as he looks to continue his sensational form that his seen him score three tries in as many games this season and make more metres than any other player in Super Rugby 2019 (326m, at least 101m more than any other player).
Sunwolves fans will have fond memories of facing Blues in Super Rugby from when they recorded their highest ever Super Rugby victory to date back in July 2017, running in eight tries against the New Zealand outfit in a scorching afternoon in Tokyo.
Shuhei Matsuhashi is the only survivor from the team that day who also starts this weekend against the Blues in Auckland, highlighting the Sunwolves’ high turnover of players in the past two seasons.
The Japanese franchise were defeated 24-10 against the Blues last season, despite leading 10-3 at the interval.
PREDICTION: Blues 18-27 Sunwolves
Delight for the Sunwolves as they pile on more misery on the Blues. Parker to come off the bench in the second half to keep the scoreboard ticking over.