Sunwolves head coach Mark Hammett said Tuesday he had heard the rumors he could be interim Japan coach but that at the moment he was too busy preparing for the new Super Rugby season to contemplate taking on two roles.
Speaking to Kyodo News over the phone from Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, where the Sunwolves are in camp, the former All Blacks hooker said, “There could be potential, but right now I am so busy I haven’t really looked at it. But it is something to look at further down the line.”
Last month, Jamie Joseph was named Eddie Jones’ successor, but the former New Zealand and Japan loose forward will not take charge of the national team until he completes his duties with reigning Super Rugby champions the Highlanders in August.
As such, he will not be available to lead the Brave Blossoms in June when they play two tests against Scotland and one against Canada.
With 10 of the Japan squad from Rugby World Cup 2015 playing for Hammett with the Sunwolves, and Super Rugby on hold in June, having the former Hurricanes and Cardiff Blues coach in charge would make sense.
But as Hammett pointed out, he has more than enough on his plate right now as he tries to get his team ready for their season opener on Feb. 27 against the Lions.
The Sunwolves only started training as a squad on Monday and Hammett said that while the squad “had come together well,” he admitted the “lateness of the organization” meant it would be tough to get things shipshape for the Lions’ game, let alone their one and only warm-up against a Top League All-Star XV this weekend.
“Of course, it would have been better to have another game the following weekend at a higher intensity and closer to the level we will be playing. But that’s the reality of it. We can either whinge and moan or get on with it,” he said.
“The big thing is making sure our shape and patterns are right, getting a more simple line-out and a general defensive pattern in place and try to anticipate the intensity (of Super Rugby).”
Earlier in the day, Hammett named Shota Horie captain of the new team, and the 43-year-old coach said the Panasonic Wild Knights skipper has a big role to play.
“You’ve got to be brave to accept the captaincy of the unknown and the fact he did says something about his character,” Hammett said of Horie, who played for the Melbourne-based Rebels in 2013 and 2014.
“Speaking with him one-on-one it was obvious he was the man for the job. He leads by example, has experience of Super Rugby and is well backed by the players.”
Hammett and Horie’s first challenge on the field will be this Saturday’s charity game at Toyota Stadium against a side that couldn’t be more different from the physical sides the Sunwolves will encounter in Super Rugby.
“To be honest I haven’t really seen any of the players aside from the odd one we have been looking at,” Hammett said of the Top League side that will be led by Toshiba Brave Lupus coach Teppei Tomioka.
“But then again we are just looking at ourselves. The focus is just on us. The more time we have in the saddle, the easier it will be for players to understand the systems. But we have got a lot of senior players and are developing a style that they all believe in and enjoy playing.”