ACT Brumbies to form powerful alliance with Suntory Sungoliath for Sunwolves clash
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ACT Brumbies to form powerful alliance with Suntory Sungoliath for Sunwolves clash

The ACT Brumbies will align themselves with the most powerful team in Asia to boost their hopes of starting the Super Rugby season with a win in Tokyo.

The Brumbies flew out of Canberra on Tuesday night with a new coach and fresh blood in the team as they prepare for a fresh start under rookie coach Dan McKellar.

Suntory Sungoliath celebrate defending their title after beating Panasonic Wild Knights 12-8 in the Top League final.

Suntory Sungoliath celebrate defending their title after beating Panasonic Wild Knights 12-8 in the Top League final.

Giant recruit Richie Arnold is set to compete with twin brother Rory, Sam Carter and Blake Enever for game time after all four locks boarded the flight to Japan.

Tom Cusack, Lachlan McCaffrey and Rob Valetini will compete for back-row spots, while Christian Lealiifano is set to make his comeback in the chief playmaker role on Saturday.

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Ben Alexander at Brumbies training on Tuesday.

Ben Alexander at Brumbies training on Tuesday.Credit:Jamila Toderas

The Brumbies will base themselves at the home of the Suntory Sungoliath for the rest of the week to fine-tune their preparations for a round-one clash against the Japan Sunwolves.

Suntory won the Japan Top League final last month and the club is regarded as one of the richest in the world, boasting an honour roll of Brumbies legends including Matt Giteau, George Gregan and George Smith.

The Brumbies have struck a deal to use Suntory's facilities on an extended stay in Japan for the club's first match in Tokyo in Super Rugby history.

The Brumbies are bracing to face the unpredictable Sunwolves in chilly conditions in Tokyo, with temperatures expected to drop as low as two degrees.

It will be just the second time the Brumbies have played against the Sunwolves since the Japanese team was added to the competition in 2016.

The Sunwolves have won just three games in their first three seasons, but prop Ben Alexander says the Brumbies would not be be caught off guard.

"For a lot of the guys it will be their first time to Japan, but we've got a job to do," Alexander said.

"They've had huge changes in their squad, so we don't really know what to expect to be honest. What we do know is that they'll come out firing and they'll be tough.

"Everyone says the same thing at this time of year. No one has lost a game yet ... we do feel like we're in a good spot and I think we're taking the shackles off in attack this year.

"We're playing what's in front of us, whereas in the past we were a bit robotic and became predictable. That hurt our ability to score tries.

"But it's all well and good to say [we want to attack more], we've got to go out there and prove it."

McKellar is still settling on the side he will roll out for the clash against the Sunwolves, with back row, second row and wing spots still up for grabs.

Cusack and McCaffrey have spent time in the No. 7 role in the pre-season, while the 208 centimetre Arnold twins will battle with co-captain Carter and two-Test Wallaby Enever for a start berth.

The Brumbies will be on the road for the first three games of the season, with games against the Sunwolves, the Queensland Reds and the Melbourne Rebels.

"You'd much rather set your season up than be on the back foot," Alexander said.

"Momentum can carry you a long way in this tournament. It's a hard thing to get, but when you do find it, it can be a very powerful force."

Alexander, 33, will reach another milestone in the opening weeks of the season when he becomes just the fifth player in Australian history to play 150 Super Rugby games.

The versatile prop will be pushing for a starting spot, competing with Allan Alaalatoa and Scott Sio for game time this season.

Alaalatoa has already played 44 Super Rugby games and 22 Tests for the Wallabies and the 24-year-old will step up as a Brumbies leader this season.

"It's exciting times ahead ... we don't know what we're coming up this week so we're just going to expect anything," Alaalatoa said.

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SUPER RUGBY ROUND ONE

Saturday: Japan Sunwolves v ACT Brumbies at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo, 3.15pm. TV time: Live on Fox Sports.

Chris Dutton is the sports editor at The Canberra Times.

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