The Sunwolves go into their final home game of the season Saturday with a depleted squad against a Waratahs side desperate for a win.
It doesn’t exactly bode well for head coach Mark Hammett, who will bid farewell to Japan and the Sunwolves following the two away games in South Africa that the side will play to conclude their season.
But the former All Black, who will be an assistant coach with the Highlanders next season, is hoping his side will rise to the occasion.
“I’ve tried not to think about it being my last game in Japan as it saddens me a lot,” he said Friday after his team’s captain’s run at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.
“I just hope a lot of fans, who are as much a part of the team as the players and coaches, come in to celebrate our inaugural season. It will be a massive occasion.”
The Waratahs have certainly done all they can to ensure a big crowd, packing their team with a plethora of big-name players who were involved in the Wallabies’ recent series with England.
Israel Folau, Michael Hooper, Bernard Foley, Dean Mumm and Will Skelton all start for the Waratahs, who are currently victims of the complex structure of the Super Rugby tournament.
Daryl Gibson’s team is currently just behind the Brumbies on points difference at the top of the Australian Conference, but such is the domination of the New Zealand teams in the Australasian Group, the Waratahs are currently just outside the top eight in the overall standings. And if things stay the way they are, that would mean they miss out on the playoffs.
“Getting a win is the most important thing,” said Hooper, when asked about the importance of scoring three more tries than the Sunwolves to earn a valuable bonus point.
“We will think about a bonus point if we get ourselves into that position. But first and foremost we need to put pressure on the Sunwolves to get the win.”
While the Waratahs can call on their experienced international players, the same cannot be said for the hosts.
Shota Horie is out with an elbow injury, Tusi Pisi will miss the next six-to-eight weeks with a broken thumb, while 38-year-old lock Hitoshi Ono is being rested ahead of the two-week trip to South Africa.
“They are crucial members and it’s not great to have them out of the side,” said Hammett. “But one of the real positives of this season is we have blooded so many new players and it gives an opportunity for other players to lead the team and get experience.”
Hammett said the week leading up to the game had been spent trying to “get the team together and the cohesion back in place” after some players had the month off and others a busy test schedule.
“We are pleased the Waratahs have picked their strongest team as it is a sign of respect and a lot easier as a motivating factor.”