There is always a happy ending when two winless teams meet in Super Rugby, as is the case on Saturday when the Sunwolves host the Cheetahs.
The firsts don’t end there, as it will also be the first ever Super Rugby match played in Singapore under the closed roof of the National Stadium, arguably one of the world most beautiful stadiums in the world.
The old cliché of defence winning games has never rang more true, as both teams have been poor in this regard. The Cheetahs have missed 30 tackles in their two fixtures, the most of all the Super Rugby teams.
While the Sunwolves rallied to make 109 tackles against the relentless Lions in their first match, a team at Super Rugby level cannot miss 26 tackles and expect to win a game. Lineouts will also be a concern for the hosts, as they only managed to win 57 percent of them in Round One.
Both teams’ willingness to let the ball do the work means we could be in or a pulsating affair, one that could play into the hands of the counter-attacking visitors more so than the Sunwolves.
It’s worth remembering that Saturday’s hosts are still acclimatising to rugby at this level in spite of their underwhelming preparations, as fly-half Tusi Pisi told Radio NZ this week.
“It hasn’t been the best preparation but we’re not using that as an excuse why we lost last weekend [against the Lions],” he said.
“We’re just here to work and these players are really excited to be involved in Super Rugby and get opportunity every week to play some of the best players in the world so for us it’s just turning up to work and doing what we have to do.”
This weekend’s challenge is certainly made easier by the Cheetahs opting to leave Lood de Jager, the South African Player of the Year, to rest up back home.
Players to watch: For the Sunwolves, fly-half Tusi Pisi was a star distributor against the Lions, physical on defence and accurate off the kicking tee. Winger Harumichi Tatekawa was also superb in the opening game, beating three defenders in his 12 carries.
Meanwhile, Cheetahs captain Francois Venter has played every minute of the campaign so far and scored a try in each game. With 26 carries and 17 tackles so far, he has been one of their standout performers. With the Sunwolves yet to dominate at line-out time, lock Francois Uys skill in the air could help the Cheetahs poach some ball.
Team news: Sunwolves boss Mark Hammett has shown confidence in his side by naming an unchanged starting XV. Hammett has kept the faith with experienced hooker Shota Horie leading the side while replacements Takuma Asahara and Mifiposeti Paeaare the only changs to the matchday squad.
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith meanwhile has made seven changes. Amongst the backs, former Western Force pivot, Sias Ebersohn takes over from Clayton Blommetjies while Niel Marais is preferred to Fred Zeilinga at fly-half. In the forwards, there’s a new front row with Ox Nche, Jacques du Toit and Johan Coetzee coming in for Charles Marais, Torsten van Jaarsveld and Maks van Dyk respectively. With Springbok lock Lood de Jager being rested for this match, former skipper Francois Uys returns to the run-on side to join Cark Wegner in the second row. The final change sees Henco Venter taking over from Neill Jordaan at number eight.
Form: The Sunwolves opened their Super Rugby campaign against the Lions with a loss in Tokyo and then went straight into a bye, so they will be more rested than their well-traveled counterparts. The new franchise can take some positives away from the first fixture, where they impressed with ball in hand playing high-tempo rugby.
The Cheetahs have suffered back-to-back losses at home to Super Rugby newcomers Jaguares and then the Stormers last week, putting a major dent in their campaign hopes. While they they have shown a willingness to run with the ball, their defence and discipline have let them down in key moments.
Prediction: Whichever team improves the most in defence will win this game. The Cheetahs will be hurting after their two losses and we expect them to bounce back in style with a nine point victory.
This is the first time the two teams have met.
Sunwolves: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Harumichi Tatekawa, 12 Yu Tamura, 11 Yasutaka Sasakura, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Atsushi Hiwasa, 8 Edward Quirk, 7 Andrew Durutalo, 6 Liaki Moli, 5 Hitoshi Ono, 4 Timothy Vond, 3 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 2 Shota Horie (c), 1 Keith Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara,19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Yoshiya Hosoda, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Derek Carpenter, 23 Mifiposeti Paea
Cheetahs: 15 Sias Ebersohn, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Reniel Hugo, 20 Hilton Lobberts, 21 Boom Prinsloo, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Fred Zeilinga
Date: Saturday, March 12
Venue: National Stadium, Singapore
Kick-off: 18:45 local (10:45 GMT)
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant Referees: Shuhei Kubo, Aki Aso
TMO: Takashi Hareda