PREVIEW: Sunwolves v Hurricanes

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Thursday, February 23, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

ROUND 1: Sunwolves v Hurricanes , 5.15pm (NZT), Saturday 25 February, Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo

This is new territory for not only the Hurricanes but New Zealand sides. But this is possibly the widest opponents get in terms of last year's results – the Hurricanes the defending champions and the Sunwolves last in their inaugural season with only the one win.

Injuries in pre-season play have reduced the experience available to the Hurricanes in this area and James Blackwell will make his debut alongside Michael Fatialofa. While in only his second season with the Hurricanes Fatialofa has been around and will be an important counter to Liaki Moli, a key player for the Sunwolves in lineouts. Canterbury recruit Reed Prinsep will provide loose forward-lock cover from the bench.

Halfback TJ Perenara is one of those players who never turns down an opportunity to play and he rushed to the front of the queue in order to play from the outset of the competition. That's handy because it allows him to lead the side as hooker and fellow All Black Dane Coles is eased back into play from the bench. The competition is still hot among contenders for All Blacks duty and Augustine Pulu provided a reminder in his debut game for the Blues that the race is on at halfback.

In a perfect world rising talent Jordie Barrett probably wouldn't have started the first game of the year – fullback would have been Nehe Milner-Skudder's entrée back to top level play. But injury has always provided opportunities for other and the competition probably suits Barrett's introduction to the game. He can expect a lively debut without being expected to set the world on fire, yet.

If there is one area the Sunwolves will be confident they can take it to the Hurricanes it will be up front. Hooker Shota Horie has plenty of experience and if he can get good support from his props Masataka Mikami and Heiichiro Ito, the Hurricanes will know they've been in a contest. But with Jeffery To'omaga-Allen back on board after recovering from injury in the latter part of 2016, and the effervescence of hooker Ricky Riccitelli and the mobility of Chris Eves the Hurricanes will be confident of their chances.

Sunwolves: 15.Riaan Viljoen, 14.Takaaki Nakazuru, 13.Timothy Lafaele, 12.Derek Carpenter, 11.Kenki Fukuoka, 10.Hikaru Tamura, 9.Keisuke Uchida, 8.Willie Britz, 7.Edward Quirk, 6.Malgene Ilaua, 5.Sam Wykes, 4.Liaki Moli, 3.Heiichiro Ito, 2.Shota Horie, 1.Masataka Mikami

Substitutes: 16.Takeshi Hino, 17.Koki Yamamoto, 18.Takuma Asahara, 19.Kotaro Yatabe, 20.Shokei Kin, 21.Kaito Shigeno, 22.Ryohei Yamanaka, 23.Shota Emi

Hurricanes: 15.Jordie Barrett, 14.Cory Jane, 13.Matt Proctor, 12.Ngani Laumape, 11.Julian Savea, 10.Otere Black, 9.TJ Perenara (captain), 8.Blade Thomson, 7.Ardie Savea, 6.Brad Shields, 5.Michael Fatialofa, 4.James Blackwell, 3.Jeffery To'omaga-Allen, 2.Ricky Riccitelli, 1.Chris Eves

Substitutes: 16.Dane Coles, 17.Ben May, 18.Mike Kainga, 19.Reed Prinsep, 20.Callum Gibbins, 21.Chris Smylie, 22.Beauden Barrett, 23.Vince Aso