The Sunwolves take on the Hurricanes on Friday in their first game in Tokyo since being told they will no longer be part of Super Rugby after the 2020 season.
In the first evening game the team have played in the nation’s capital, Tony Brown’s side is looking to prove a point with the coach saying he hopes his team “can show (tournament organizers) SANZAAR they made a mistake” when it opted in March to cut the competition to 14 teams from 2021.
And with just eight points separating the bottom nine sides with eight games still to play, a win against the 2016 champion would keep hopes alive of finishing the regular season in the top half of the draw.
“There are still a lot of games left and we want to make the playoffs,” game captain Dan Pryor said Thursday after his team’s training run at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.
Consistency has been the team’s problem so far with wins on the road against the Chiefs (Super Rugby champs in 2012 and 2013) and the Waratahs (2014 winners) followed by disappointing losses a week later.
“We don’t want to be a team that wins one and then waits four games for their next victory,” Pryor said. “We want a good season.”
The 31-year-old flanker said the team had recognizedit had been guilty of taking things for granted following its two wins on the road and not preparing properly for the following week and he said the talk all this week had been of consistency.
“The Hurricanes are a good side but we are focused on our game,” Pryor said. “We want to play the Sunwolves brand of rugby, limit our mistakes, be accurate and play with a lot of energy.”
And they will need to do so as not only are the Hurricanes in fourth spot in the overall standings but they are coached by John Plumtree, who doubles up as Japan’s defense coach.
“Plum has a huge influence in our preparation week-to-week and obviously has inside knowledge on the way Japan defend,” said Hurricanes captain TJ Perenara. “But the Sunwolves know that and will have things to counter that, so for us the easy way to prepare is worry about what we can do.”
Plumtree may have left the Barrett brothers (Beauden and Jordie) and Ardie Savea at home in Wellington, but it is still a dangerous side and the Sunwolves will need to defend well both in terms of individual tackles and keeping to their system.
That will be particularly true in midfield where Rahboni Warren Vosayaco has been picked at inside center, rather than in his normal position in the back row.
“I feel like the team has helped me slot into that spot quite well and thankfully I had quite a bit of time there in high school at center, but it is a big step from high school to Super Rugby,” Vosayaco told Kyodo News.
The 23-year-old is up against All Black Ngani Laumape and their clash will have telling influence on which side gets the upper hand.
The two teams have met twice before with the Hurricanes winning both games. But the 43-15 victory of last year was a lot closer than the 83-17 thumping of 2017, and with the home fans also out to prove a point to the powers-that-be both at SANZAAR and the Japan Rugby Football Union, a third win of the season is not beyond the realms of possibility.