The Sunwolves held their first training session Wednesday, just 24 days before they open their 2017 Super Rugby season against the defending champions, the Hurricanes.
Only three days after the domestic season finished with a bruising All-Japan Championship final, the squad was put through their paces at Tatsumi Rugby Ground.
“We have three weeks until we take on the Hurricanes,” said head coach Filo Tiatia. “There is nothing better than taking on the best, but we are starting at the top of the mountain.”
The Sunwolves will also be starting with a number of walking wounded.
“We’ve got players just out of the Top League, promotion/relegation games and the Japan Cup,” Tiatia explained.
While the Suntory Sungoliath and Panasonic Wild Knights players who contested Sunday’s AJC final were allowed to continue their recovery by simply watching the training session, a number of other players joined them on the sidelines.
Two — Michael Bond and Ataata Moeakiola — have also yet to join up with their teammates, who gathered in the morning for a squad meeting.
“I watched the final and it was a very physical game, which is why the guys from Suntory and Panasonic are resting today,” said co-captain Ed Quirk.
“But comparing that game last year and the one this year, there is a different mentality to the way Japanese rugby is being played. The rugby now is on another level.”
Quirk will lead the Sunwolves with Harumichi Tatekawa, and the Japan center stressed the need for cohesion.
“We have got a big squad but it is important we come together as one team,” he said.
The larger than average squad has been put together to enable Tiatia and Brave Blossoms head coach Jamie Joseph the chance to look after the players’ welfare given the amount of rugby many of them have played over the last two years and the amount of traveling the team will do.
“Being with the team last year really helped,” said Tiatia.
“If you want to improve (in any walk of life) you need to learn from your mistakes and learn from your mentors. We are only in our second year of Super Rugby. All the other teams are more experienced and we are still learning. But the players are really keen. The challenge is to get 50-odd players understanding their role in the team.”
Tiatia and his coaching crew have just 17 days before the team takes to the field for their only warmup game against a Top League All-Star XV on Feb. 18 in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture.
“The big difference this year is that, barring a few players, everyone was involved in the Japan national team in the November tests,” said Quirk. “Filo and Jamie and the rest of the Sunwolves staff were also involved and were driving what we also want to do with the Sunwolves.”
“Obviously we have to concentrate and ensure there is cohesion with the new members, but from a personal point of view sometimes not having a hard preseason can be a good mental break.”
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