SINGAPORE – The Sunwolves will be hoping history repeats itself this weekend when they take on South Africa’s Southern Kings at Singapore National Stadium.
With the daggers already out following last weekend’s big Super Rugby loss at the hands of the Wellington-based Hurricanes, Filo Tiatia’s side — who arrived in the city-state early Wednesday morning —have the chance to prove the critics wrong.
And they need only to look back to last year to know that a negative day can sometimes have positive consequences.
On April 15, 2016, the Sunwolves were hammered 92-17 by the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Not for the first or last time, there were many who said a Japanese side does not belong in what is often described as rugby’s toughest competition.
Eight days later, of which two were spent in the air, the Sunwolves beat fellow competition debutants the Jaguares of Argentina 36-28 in Tokyo.
Tiatia and co-captain Ed Quirk are hoping for a case of deja vu this weekend.
“Bloemfontein was one of the hardest things I have been through. But everyone faces adversity,” said Tiatia who was then an assistant coach under Mark Hammett. “This is another chance for us to improve and get better.”
Quirk said after last Saturday’s match at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground that the side “was pumped to play the Kings and we will be hungry. We are really determined to move forward and we have a great opportunity to do that in Singapore.”
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd spoke of the huge difference in preparation time for the two teams.
While the Sunwolves have refused to use it as an excuse for their poor start, one has to only look at recent Japanese success to realize how important it is for the players to spend time together.
The success of the Brave Blossoms at Rugby World Cup 2015 was down to the five months they were in camp prior to leaving for England.
Likewise, the fourth-place finish at the Rio Olympics last year was the result of a settled sevens squad being in camp for a couple of months prior to flying to Brazil.
It is no coincidence that since Rio the sevens team has struggled on the world circuit, winning just one game in 20 as their preparation and squad make-up was hit hard by Top League commitments.
The longer the Sunwolves are together the better they will become, a view that is also shared by Hurricanes assistant coach Jason Holland.
“It’s easy to look at game one,” Holland told New Zealand media. “Filo told me it’d been 17 days since they’d come together.
“They’re going to get better and better. We got them at their worst and I’m sure there won’t be too many teams who put 80 points on them this year.”
A tough draw and ridiculous travel schedule means there will be no let ups, however, so it is imperative the team puts aside last week’s big loss and tries to emulate the final 15 minutes when they gave the superb Tokyo crowd something to cheer about as they added two tries to Riaan Viljoen’s first-half effort and kept the Hurricanes scoreless.
“We scored three tries against one of the best defending teams in the competition,” Tiatia said.
A lot, therefore, rests on the shoulders of the experienced players who know there’s no point dwelling on the past — particularly when you still have 14 games to play.
As Quirk said after the loss to the Hurricanes, “The sun will still come up tomorrow.”
And if Tiatia’s young squad need any more proof what is important is how you end a season, not how you start it, they only need to have another look at that history book.
Last year the Brumbies opened their campaign with a 52-10 win against a team described by former Wallabies hooker Phil Kearns as “fat, slow and unfit.”
That side was the Hurricanes, who went on to win the title.
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