Sunwolves trounce Top League XV in team’s first-ever preseason contest



The Sunwolves, Japan’s Super Rugby team, head into their inaugural season with a 52-24 win on Saturday over a Top League XV under their belts.

But head coach Mark Hammett knows there is still an awful lot to do in a very short time before they open their campaign against the Lions in Tokyo on Feb. 27, following the victory at Toyota Stadium.

Man of the match Tusi Pisi aside, none of the other Sunwolves really stood out for any length of time as they at times labored to the win against a side that showed — despite their best efforts — little resemblance to the power and physicality the new Super Rugby franchise can expect in the coming weeks and months.

“It was good just to get started more than anything,” Hammett said after the charity match,which was played in front of 10,438. “But we are not kidding ourselves. We know we have a lot to work on.”

It was a view shared by captain Shota Horie.

“I’m glad we won but it’s hard to build a team in a short period of time,” he said.

“It was good we were able to discover our good and bad points. We need to communicate more and I believe defense will be the key. We have to make sure it is better organized and apply more pressure. We also needed to move the ball more today and use our backs.”

The need for Hammett to see so many different players in action meant it was always going to be difficult for any real structure to be imposed on the game.

And so it proved.

The Sunwolves gave up the first try after just 55 seconds when Shota Emi intercepted a pass from Timothy Bond, and although they rebounded to lead 24-10 at the break, there wasn’t a great deal on show to worry any of the 15 sides the Sunwolves will face.

Yasutaka Sasakura became the first try scorer in the side’s history, Riaan Viljoen crossed for a brace and Pisi scored a superb individual effort as the Sunwolves tried their best to stick to the patterns they had worked on in their five days of training.

But with both coaches making numerous changes in the second half, the game became a scrappy affair.

Akihito Yamada touched down twice for the Sunwolves and there were five-pointers for Ed Quirk and Ziun Gu, with Taiyo Ando and Chikara Ito replying for the All Stars.

“The first half was more structured than the second,” said Hammett. “We wanted to play everyone in the squad because we want everyone to feel a part of who we are. But when you do play everyone the combinations struggle, and in the final 20 minutes there were guys playing who had only been in camp for two days.”

For its part, the Top League side was happy to give the Sunwolves something of a test.

“It’s a good thing for the Sunwolves if we were able to put in a good performance and we did our best,” said captain Toshiaki Hirose.

“They were strong in contact in the first 15 minutes and it must have been tough with just a week of preparation for this game. But I believe they made a good start.”