Sunwolves trio take lessons from defeat

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Sunwolves may have come up short in their 2018 season opener, but the contest provided valuable experience for the younger players making their Super Rugby debuts.

On Saturday, a trio of young Sunwolves — scrum-half Yutaka Nagare, flanker Kazuki Himeno and center Ryoto Nakamura — all made the starting lineup and put in vigorous performances before a crowd of 14,614 at Tokyo’s Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground

“It was just so much fun to be playing out there,” Nakamura, who has been capped 11 times for the Japan national team, said after the hosts fell 32-25 against the Brumbies. “I was so excited and thrilled.”

The 25-year-old Nakamura is considered one of the most improved players in the Top League and helped the Suntory Sungoliath capture the league title each of the last two years. The Kagoshima native said the Super Rugby competition was certainly different from domestic league contests. But he added he was psyched up to play in upcoming matches for Sunwolves.

“Now I know what (Super Rugby) is all about,” Nakamura said. “I’m looking forward to our upcoming games.”

Unlike Nakamura, Himeno said he was nervous throughout the game. But it did not cause him to have a disappointing performance.

Himeno thought he was able to play on a par, physically, against the players of the Canberra-based Brumbies, which gives him confidence that he can compete in the league.

“I could shove (the Brumbies players) offensively, and I think I felt like I did well defensively also,” said Himeno, who joined the Toyota Verblitz last year and received the Top League’s rookie of the year accolade last season. “So physically, I felt good.”

While Nakamura and Himeno wore smiles that carried a certain amount of satisfaction, Nagare felt responsible for not being able to have a better game in a central position.

“Obviously, we were looking for a win, so I’m frustrated,” Nagare, also of the Sungoliath, said. “We scored tries as we intended to in the first half and entered the second half with a lead. But at the beginning of the second half, we gave up a lead off my own mistake and it factored into the loss for us. So I feel responsible as a (co-)captain and feel like I let my teammates down.”

Himeno regretted that the Sunwolves, who racked up just one and two wins in their first two seasons in the league, respectively, failed to come up with the victory they could have claimed.

“To be honest, I feel disappointed, because we ended up losing but it was a game we could have won,” Himeno said. “We made some errors at critical moments and little things like that led to the loss. We feel like we lost a game we should have won.”

Nevertheless, Nagare held his head high.

“The Super Rugby season will continue,” said Nagare, who has played for the national team since last year. “I think the fact that I was able to have an experience like this and play with pressure was beneficial for me.”

Despite Nagare’s critical view of his day, Brumbies coach Dan McKellar and co-captain Christian Lealiifano regarded the diminutive Nagare as one of the players who made a strong impression.

Himeno had the same sentiment as Nagare, saying: “We lost a game we should have won, but we should be able to take advantage of this for our remaining games going forward. Aiming at finishing the season within the top five, we definitely want to win our next game.”

The Sunwolves will return to Prince Chichibu this Saturday to take on the Rebels.