Super Rugby Preview: Sunwolves vs Highlanders

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019    Getty Images

Match details: Sunwolves v Highlanders, 10pm Friday 26 April (NZT), Prince Chichibu Stadium, Tokyo
Played: 1 (Highlanders won 40-15 in round nine of 2017)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe

Although the Sunwolves and Highlanders have battled in 2019, they are both coming off strong performances in round ten. The Highlanders got back in the winner’s circle for the first time since round two with a comprehensive 24-12 win over the Blues at Forsyth-Barr Stadium. The Sunwolves didn’t pick up the ‘W’ but were incredibly impressive in falling just short to the Hurricanes 29-23 in Tokyo.


The Highlanders have made a number of changes to the side that took out the Blues last week. The most notable change is at fullback with Matt Faddes replacing Ben Smith who is on an enforced All Blacks rest break. Sio Tomkinson switches from the mid-field to the wing with Rob Thompson back at centre and Aaron Smith back from injury to start at halfback. In the forwards, the loss of Shannon Frizell is offset by the return of Luke Whitelock to the loose forwards.

The Highlanders will have to keep a close watch on Sunwolves left wing Semisi Masirewa who has been a revelation for the Japanese side in 2019. Against the Hurricanes last week, Masirewa crossed for two tries and racked up 148 run metres – 40 metres more than the next best player in the round. Masirewa features strongly in the overall Super Rugby attacking statistics. His seven tries place him second on the try-scoring ladder while his 539 run metres are only behind Blues pair Melani Nanai, Rieko Ioane and teammate Gerhard van den Heever.
The battle of pivots Josh Ioane and Hayden Parker could be the defining factor in this match. On paper there isn’t much to separate the playmakers. They are almost identical in size and match up evenly in all statistics apart from one. While known for his dead-eye goal kicking, Parker has impressed most with his ability to create try-scoring opportunities this season. He has completed seven try-assists compared to Ioane’s one try assist. The Highlanders will need to counter his accurate cross-kicks and slick cut out balls if they are to keep the scoreboard in check against the Sunwolves.


The Sunwolves are still chasing their first victory at home in 2019 (L5), they’ve never lost more than five games in a row on their own turf.


The Sunwolves came flying out of the blocks against the Hurricanes last week but couldn’t sustain the tempo in the second half. They will need to play an 80 minute game if they are to upset the Highlanders in front of what is sure to be another hot crowd at Prince Chichibu Stadium. The Highlanders have lost their last four games away from home and know if they have any chance of being a genuine title contender in 2019 this is one game they simply have to win.



Ryohei Yamanaka, Gerhard van den Heever, Josh Timu, Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, Semisi Masirewa, Hayden Parker, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hendrik Tui, Dan Pryor, Grant Hattingh, Luke Thompson, Mark Abbot, Hiroshi Yamashita, Nathan Vella, Pauliasi Manu
Reserves: Shota Horie, Alex Woonton, Takuma Asahara, Tom Rowe, Ben Gunter, Kaito Shigeno, Yu Tamura, Jason Emery


Matt Faddes, Sio Tomkinson, Rob Thompson, Tei Walden, Tevita Li, Josh Ioane, Aaron Smith, Elliot Dixon, James Lentjes, Luke Whitelock, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown
Reserves: Ash Dixon, Sef Fa'agase, Siate Tokolahi, Josh Dickson, Shannon Frizell, Kayne Hammington, Bryn Gatland, Dillon Hunt.