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A new head coach and substantially altered squad await the men from Wellington this Saturday but optimism will be high for the Japanese franchise going into their second season, with the strain that comes with a Super Rugby schedule now familiar.
Those involved with the Sunwolves last season will benefit from that experience but recruits with years in Super Rugby under their belts have also been recruited, particularly upfront where Sam Wykes (Force) and Willie Britz (Cheetahs) can add plenty of knowledge.
Filo Tiatia is the new man in charge in place of Mark Hammett and aside from hoping for some hard-nosed performances from those upfront, where Shota Horie and Liaki Moli in particular are key figures along with captain Ed Quirk, it is in the back where the Sunwolves might cause some excitement.
Saturday’s contest however is likely to be a sore reality check, given the problems the Hurricanes posed so many defences in 2016 and how often the Sunwolves leaked tries.
Not only will this be the Sunwolves’ first encounter with the Hurricanes, but it will be their first Super Rugby encounter with a New Zealand team also.
An inconsistent outing against a Top League XV last weekend was more about trying combinations as opposed to racking up a big score, and to go from that to face a well-drilled outfit like the Hurricanes is some ask.
As for the champions, the odds of repeating in Super Rugby are far from easy but there is a settled feel to their side heading into the new season, with head coach Chris Boyd having enough confidence in his depth to leave Dane Coles and Beauden Barrett – both nominated for World Player of the Year in 2016 which Barrett won – to rest on the bench.
The Hurricanes’ ability to attack from anywhere is well know but the focus on Saturday and beyond will centre on how Jordie Barrett, brother of Beauden, fares at either full-back, along with the progress this season of the likes of Ricky Riccitelli, Michael Fatialofa and Vaea Fifita.
Anything less than a bonus-point win to kick off the new year would be viewed as an extreme disappointment and with that does come a level of pressure, but then again the Hurricanes feel well equipped to achieve that goal.
The Hurricanes have won only one of their last six games to open a Super Rugby season (22-8 v Lions in 2015), but that now seems certain to change.
Sunwolves: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Takaaki Nakazuru, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Derek Carpenter, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Hikaru Tamura, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Willem Britz, 7 Edward Quirk, 6 Malgene Ilaua, 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Heiichiro Ito, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Masataka Mikami
Replacements: 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 (c), 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
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ben May, 18 Mike Kainga, 19 Reed Prinsep, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Vince Aso