Japan World Cup hero Ayumu Goromaru will make his first Super Rugby start on Saturday against Western Force as the Queensland Reds look for their maiden win in the newly expanded competition.
The 29-year-old will start at fullback, his preferred position, while utility back Karmichael Hunt moves from 15 to the centres to replace the injured Henry Taefu.
Goromaru, who snubbed Japan’s Sunwolves to join the Reds, came on for Taefu in last week’s opening loss away to the New South Wales Waratahs, kicking a long-range penalty and a conversion but seeing little of the ball at outside centre.
Brisbane fans will now get their first chance to watch Goromaru, a cult hero in Japan where he has a life-size gold statue and is certified as a “master of Ninjas”.
He famously scored 24 of Japan’s points in last year’s stunning 34-32 World Cup win over South Africa, regarded as the biggest upset in the tournament’s history.
Goromaru, named in some French reports as the world’s best paid player, will now be expected to perform against the Perth-based Force, who finished 15th last year.
“This is an important game for us and we’re pleased it is at Suncorp Stadium,” said Reds coach Richard Graham.
“We are continuing to build and the support of our home supporters will be important,” he added.
Elsewhere a mouth-watering breakdown battle between Australia’s star flankers David Pocock and Michael Hooper will be another highlight when the ACT Brumbies meet the Waratahs.
The two-time champion Brumbies were irresistible in beating last year’s finalists Wellington Hurricanes 52-10 in the opening round, while the Waratahs showed set-piece problems during their 30-10 win over the Reds.
But it is the showdown between Pocock and Hooper, rugby’s two premier number sevens, that will captivate fans in Canberra on Friday.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika shifted Pocock to number eight at last year’s World Cup in England to accommodate both accomplished ball scavengers, with outstanding results until defeat to the All Blacks in the final.
“They are both very special players so it will be exciting to watch them play against each other,” Brumbies’ Wallabies blindside flanker Scott Fardy said.
“They’re both really different but they just have that huge workrate and love to get involved in the game. I love playing alongside them. I guess I have a front-row seat to watch them so I’ll look forward to it.”
Pocock’s Brumbies look to have the edge after their spectacular seven-try dismantling of the Hurricanes in the first round, while the Waratahs scrum and line-out appeared vulnerable against the Reds.
The Brumbies’ pack will be further strengthened by the return of Wallabies loose head Scott Sio, who this week signed with Australian rugby for three more years.
In another outstanding clash, defending champions Otago Highlanders have a rematch of last season’s final against the Hurricanes in Dunedin, with both sides smarting after opening week defeats.
Five-time champions Canterbury Crusaders take on Tana Umaga’s Auckland Blues in Christchurch.
Argentine newcomers the Jaguares line up against the Coastal Sharks in Durban after stunning the Central Cheetahs 34-33 in their tournament debut.
The Jaguares, who feature many of the Argentina national side who finished fourth at the World Cup, will be without lock Tomas Lavanini after he was suspended for driving a knee into William Small-Smith when he dived over for a Cheetahs try.
The Crusaders, who went down in their opening game 27-21 to the Waikato Chiefs, face the Blues, who impressively downed the Highlanders 33-31 in Umaga’s debut as coach.
In round two’s other games, the Chiefs host South Africa’s Golden Lions, and the Pretoria-based Northern Bulls have home advantage against the Melbourne Rebels.
Japan’s Sunwolves and fellow newcomers Southern Kings of South Africa have byes in the expanded, 18-team competition.
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