Five talking points for the Super Rugby weekend

Sunwolves' flanker Michael Leitch (left) is tackled by Reds' wing Jordan Petaia during Round 13 Super Rugby match between Sunwolves of Japan and the Reds of Australia at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo, May 12, 2018. — AFP pic
Sunwolves' flanker Michael Leitch (left) is tackled by Reds' wing Jordan Petaia during Round 13 Super Rugby match between Sunwolves of Japan and the Reds of Australia at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo, May 12, 2018. — AFP pic

HONG KONG, May 17 — An inaugural match in steamy Hong Kong, the return of a Reds stalwart and a porous Lions defence are among our talking points as Super Rugby enters week 14:

Sunwolves turn up the heat

Japan’s Sunwolves are hoping the heat and humidity of Hong Kong will work in their favour as they aim for their first ever back-to-back wins.

The Sunwolves face South Africa’s Western Stormers still riding high from their shock 63-28 demolition of the Queensland Reds.

“I can’t wait,” said Sunwolves coach Jamie Joseph, after his team ended a nine-match losing streak last week with only their fourth Super Rugby win in three seasons.

“It was hot today and will be hotter in Hong Kong and the big men from South Africa will struggle in the heat.”

With the mercury forecast to soar to at least 32 Celsius (90 Fahrenheit) for Saturday’s 1:15pm kick-off (0515 GMT), the heat could be a huge factor in the first Super Rugby match to be played in Hong Kong.

Higginbotham bolsters sorry Reds

The Queensland Reds are keen to move on from their embarrassing 63-28 thrashing by the Sunwolves and are banking on skipper Scott Higginbotham providing some leadership on his return from injury.

“It was an incredibly disappointing result on the weekend but we need to move on from that poor performance,” coach Brad Thorn said ahead of their Friday clash with the rampaging Hurricanes in Wellington.

“We’re up against one of the better teams in the competition. It will be a challenge.”

Higginbotham is relieved to be back after missing seven games this year, including the last four with a calf injury.

Thorn said he would add “a lot of experience and leadership to the side”, while admitting some “tough lessons” had been learned in Japan.

“We need to learn quickly and this Friday presents an opportunity to act on the disappointment,” he said.

Leaky Lions concern de Bruin 

Golden Lions coach Swys de Bruin says they must plug a porous defence to get their campaign back on track after three straight losses when the struggling ACT Brumbies visit Johannesburg.

The 2016 and 2017 Super Rugby runners-up have conceded 45 tries in 12 matches, an average of nearly four per game. Only Western Stormers and bottom team Sunwolves have let in more.

“We conceded some really soft tries in the last match of our tour against the Otago Highlanders and I’m incredibly disappointed,” admitted De Bruin.

Defeat in Dunedin completed a disastrous Australasia tour for the Lions, who began with an impressive win over NSW Waratahs, then fell to Queensland Reds and Wellington Hurricanes. 

NZ nerves as streak heads for 40 

Australia’s trans-Tasman losing streak could hit 40 matches on Friday when Wellington Hurricanes play Queensland Reds in the New Zealand capital.

The run of defeats to New Zealand opposition stretching back to 2016 has become a monkey on the back of Australian rugby but Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd said it also created a strange kind of pressure on the New Zealanders.

“I suspect it’s in the back of both Australian and New Zealand teams’ minds,” he told reporters.

“They’ll be pretty keen to be the team that breaks it and no New Zealand team wants to be the team that finally falls.

“So any of those streaks always carry a bit of psychological stuff in the background, but we haven’t focused on it at all.”

Crusaders aim to cut short Umaga joy 

All Black legend Tana Umaga’s happiness at receiving a one-year contract extension at the Auckland Blues may be short lived if Saturday’s match against Canterbury Crusaders follows recent form.

The reigning champions have won their last six matches against Umaga’s team, with the Blues last victory coming in February 2014.

A loss would leave the Blues winless in their past 17 matches against New Zealand opposition, just the sort of statistic Umaga needs to improve if he is to stay around at Eden Park beyond 2019. — AFP

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