No smiles but still upbeat

Sunwolves head coach Filo Tiatia watching from the sidelines at the National Stadium yesterday. They lost 23-37 to the Kings three weeks ago at the same venue.
Sunwolves head coach Filo Tiatia watching from the sidelines at the National Stadium yesterday. They lost 23-37 to the Kings three weeks ago at the same venue.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Sunwolves back here looking for first victory in S'pore but face in-form Stormers tonight

It has been almost a year, but Super Rugby fans still remember how close the Sunwolves - league debutants last season - came to getting a shock victory against the Stormers at the National Stadium.

The two sides are back at the same venue tonight, with the Sunwolves - co-based in Japan and Singapore - looking again for a precious win to ignite their second Super Rugby season.

After losing all four of their games this season, the hosts' pre-season optimism has been dwindling. When asked yesterday of the morale going into tonight's game, head coach Filo Tiatia replied: "Do you see me smiling?"

Still, the Japanese franchise can take heart that they were within two seconds of beating the Stormers in their previous outing here, before the South African side scored a last-gasp try to thwart them with a 17-17 draw.

They finished bottom of the standings last season, with their sole win at home against fellow new boys Jaguares from Argentina.

This time around, they will be without last season's leading point scorer, Samoan fly-half Tusi Pisi, who has moved on to English Premiership side Bristol.

Nevertheless, Sunwolves captain Edward Quirk said: "Our squad this year is completely different. You can never really take the same result from a year ago and say that it's going to be the same."

Led by former All Black Mark Hammett last season, all three games here were tight affairs.

Besides the Stormers draw, they lost to the Cheetahs 31-32 and to the Bulls 27-30.

Tiatia believes that his players are improving despite the lack of preparation time. He said: "We had a short time to prepare, but despite that, we performed to the best of our abilities at all the matches.

"The players are improving and we don't let the losses dampen our spirits."

The Stormers come into the game with momentum after defeating the Bulls, Jaguares and the Southern Kings. Head coach Robbie Fleck hailed their results, saying: "This is the youngest squad we've had in about 15 years, with five of our players under 20 years old."

SUNWOLVES V STORMERS

Singtel TV Ch120 & StarHub Ch217, 6.50pm

•Tickets for the 2017 Super Rugby matches can be purchased via the Sports Hub Tix website

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'No smiles but still upbeat'. Print Edition | Subscribe