Insights of AAC helping Waratahs prepare for the unpredictable Sunwolves

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

Adam Ashley-Cooper will play an impact role from the Waratahs bench on Saturday but his off-field contribution into beating the Sunwolves this week could prove just as vital.

The 116-Test centre was cleared to take his place in the NSW team after recovering from a head-knock suffered in the Tahs’ first game against the Hurricanes in Sydney.

Ashley-Cooper has relinquished his starting no.13 jersey to Karmichael Hunt but AAC’s strategical input during training this week has been helpful in preparing NSW for the unusual “hybrid” game style of the Sunwolves.

Adam Ashley-Cooper and the Kobe Steelers won Japan's Top League. Photo: Instagram/Adam Ashley-CooperThe 34-year-old spent the last two seasons in Japan with Kobe, and re-joined the Waratahs last month. Ashley-Cooper has played with and against a number of the Sunwolves players in the Top League.

"He has had a few seasons over here so he knows a lot of the guys,” NSW assistant coach Chris Whitaker told media from Tokyo.

"And it is not just specifically this game either, everyone has been tapping him up in terms of defensive systems, attacking systems, best practice. But especially this week, he is very much hands on in giving us insights in how they’re going to play and what they’re going to do.”

While a large proportion of the current Sunwolves team are not actually Japanese (their Test players are currently being rested from Super Rugby), the Tokyo-based team have a very Japanese style, based on quick ruck speed and lots of ball movement.

But coached by Kiwis, led by former All Black Tony Brown, the Sunwolves also have a New Zealand flavour too.

All of which makes them unlike any other team in Super Rugby - keen to play at pace and with a unpredictability that forces rivals to spend hours poring over game vision, preparing for a pattern-less team.


"That’s what they have become synonymous for,” NSW hooker Damian Fitzpatrick said.

"With our review process, it is probably more clips than we have for any other team because these guys do have more variation in the way they play, particularly with their starter plays from set-piece, there are probably a good seven-eight-nine options that they use.

"In the circumstances you can’t be 100 per cent prepared that you’ve seen everything. We have to be prepared for that.

"Our coaches have tried to show how potent these guys can be in review. There was a Reds game last year, and no-one is saying the Reds took them lightly, but on their day they are able to score a huge amount of points and change the momentum of a game very quickly.”

The Reds lost 63-28 but NSW beat the Sunwolves last year twice with comfortable margins.

It is a tough road trip but also an important week to try and bank a bonus-point win, given the Sunwolves are in the Australian conference.

But Whitaker said the Waratahs can’t be tempted into a “free for all” game that suits the Sunwolves.

"Typically with the Japanese and even the national team, they rely on very fast ball, and ball movement,” Whitaker said. 

"The Sunwolves are no different, even coming out of their own end. They like to hang onto the ball if if they kick it is an attacking kick, it’s a grubber in behind.

"The focus for us to keep to our structures and stick to our style. The last thing we want to do is make it a free-for-all.

"For us it is staying very disciplined on how we want to play."

The Waratahs take on the Sunwolves in Tokyo at 3.15pm (AEDT). LIVE coverage on FoxSports from 3pm.