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Team Preview: The Sunwolves

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allblacks.com     10 Feb 2018     Getty Images

Home: Prince Chichibu Stadium, Tokyo
Last Season: 17th

Squad (more to be added):
Keita Inagaki, Asaeli Aivalu, Jiwon Koo, Ruan Smith, Craig Millar, Jaba Bradvadze, Shota Horie, Grant Hattingh, Sam Wykes, Kazuki Imeno, Uwe Helu, Edward Quirk, Shunsuke Nunomaki, Wimpie van der Walt, Willie Britz, Michael Leitch, Fumiaki Tanaka, Yu Tamura, Hayden Parker, Harumichi Tatekawa, Timoth Lafaele, Gerhard van den Heever, Kenki Fukuoka, Akihito Yamada, Lamano Lava Lemeki, Robbie Robinson, Kotaro Matsushima, Daishi Murata

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Key signing:
There is no more inspirational figure in Japanese rugby than powerful loose forward Michael Leitch. The New Zealand-born star has lived in Japan since the age of 15 and made his debut for the Japanese international side in 2008. His hard running and high work rate are matched by his leadership skills which helped guide Japan to a remarkable win over South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Leitch has been an integral figure at the Chiefs over the past few seasons and will provide a huge boost to the Sunwolves this season.

Game breaker:
Akihito Yamada was the Sunwolves standout player in their debut 2016 season with nine tries and plenty of scintillating moments for the highlights reel. The flying winger was highly missed in 2017 after taking a break from Super Rugby. His return to the playing roster for 2018 has been celebrated by Sunwolves fans and will have defensive coaches scratching their heads. Yamada’s electric speed off the mark and ability to change direction at speed will provide the Sunwolves with a world class attacking weapon that was missing in 2017. 



Returning Veteran:
Australian-born loose forward Ed Quirk has provided plenty of power and go-forward for the Sunwolves across their opening two seasons. At 6’3 and 110kg, Quirk has played the enforcer for the Sunwolves and will be asked to repeat that the role in 2018. At 26-years-old, Quirk brings plenty of Super Rugby experience to the table after debuting for the Queensland Reds in 2010. Ever present in all the physical exchanges, Quirk is the type of player that will roll up his sleeves and do all of the tough work on the field.

The scoop:
The Sunwolves need only to look back to the final game of 2017 to provide confidence for this year’s campaign. On that day, the Sunwolves ran in eight tries to trounce the Blues 48-21 and show they belong on the Super Rugby stage. While their talent is undoubted, new head coach Jamie Joseph will look to instil self-belief and demand consistency. Expect plenty of improvement from the Sunwolves this year - although a playoff spot might a bridge too far.