Rugby

New coach Tony Brown to make national team members prove worth for Sunwolves

by Rich Freeman

Kyodo

New Sunwolves head coach Tony Brown said Friday the Japan national team members in line to play at the 2019 Rugby World Cup will need to prove themselves if they are to play Super Rugby next year.

The 43-year-old former All Black, who will combine his new role with that of assistant coach to the Japan national team, said that while Brave Blossoms head coach Jamie Joseph would pick the initial Sunwolves squad, he and Scott Hansen would be in charge of the week-to-week running of the side and would pick the best players available every week.

“It’s very similar to the New Zealand sides with the All Blacks not allowed to play the first three or four games of the (Super Rugby) competition,” Brown said. “It means you can build depth and when the internationals do become available they have to prove themselves. If other players are better they do not get selected. I have no instructions from Jamie to pick players.”

Joseph has already said most of the Japan players being lined up for next Rugby World Cup would miss the opening rounds of the Super Rugby competition and Brown confirmed they would enter the mix from Round 5 onwards.

“It will be easy to manage,” Brown said of the addition of players midway through the season. “Like all Super Rugby campaigns you always get a lot of injuries. The new players will add value and the more quality players you have the better you are able to perform, especially in the second half of the season.”

Among the players already confirmed for the Sunwolves are former All Black Rene Ranger and one-time Scotland cap Phil Burleigh, with Georgia hooker Jaba Bregvadze and Kiwi flyhalf Hayden Parker returning for a second season.

“We have picked international players that can play our style,” said Brown.

“I know Phil from when I coached the Highlanders and he is a very gifted and skillful player who can move the ball at speed. And everyone knows what a dynamic player Rene is. He will be a real weapon and add a lot to our defense, which we need to improve if we are to challenge the top teams.”

While the Sunwolves have struggled to win games over their first three years, they have become fan favorites, not just in Japan, for the way they approach the game.

Brown said nothing would change.

“I have always tried to be as innovative as possible and I hope to continue the Sunwolves playing style, which is an exciting innovative brand of rugby, one that fans around the world love to watch.

“It’s not the same old boring rugby. It’s innovative and new. There’s not a lot of set pieces or scrums and lineouts. It’s about attacking space at speed, using counterattacks and turnovers and kicking a lot to produce rugby that is exciting to play and exciting to watch.

“If we can do that better than the opposition, then we will get the results.”

The Sunwolves open their 2019 campaign on Feb. 16 against the Sharks from South Africa in Singapore, one of two “home” games the side will play on the island state.