Sunwolves chief Yuji Watase and head coach Naoya Okubo on Tuesday expressed their regret over the Japan-based Super League side’s sudden end after its five-year run, emphasizing the significant role they believe the team played in developing Japanese rugby.
One day after it was officially revealed that the Sunwolves would not compete in the proposed Australian domestic competition due to logistics and coronavirus-related border restrictions, both said in an online news conference that they felt helpless given the global situation, adding that they had nothing left to do but to accept it.
“Hopefully, the players and staff will be able to use the experience (with the team) for their next careers,” said Watase, CEO of Japan SR, the company that has operated the Sunwolves. “The Sunwolves’ season is over, but nothing has been decided about the team for its future.
“The team was originally formed as a place to develop the Japan national team toward the 2019 Rugby World Cup. I think it has sufficiently fulfilled the role.”
Many Sunwolves players were a part of the Brave Blossoms squad and contributed to Japan’s run to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time ever in the Japan-hosted tournament.
While the Sunwolves struggled to post wins with a record of nine victories, 58 defeats and one draw, Watase and Okubo praised their players for showing different values from other teams since they began playing in 2016.
“I imagine that the world will become more exclusive going forward because of the coronavirus,” said Okubo, who was named the team’s head coach before the 2020 season. “But in (five) years in the league, the Sunwolves have proven the power of unity in overcoming international borders. I think this team should receive more credit for its identity and how it overcame its differences in nationalities and cultures.”
Watase did not specify the future of the Sunwolves, whose exit from Super Rugby’s 2021 season had been determined by Southern Hemisphere rugby chiefs in March. But he suggested that given current circumstances, it would be difficult for the team to compete in another league overseas and said that Japan SR would enter detailed discussions with the Japan Rugby Football Union about the team’s future.
Okubo, a former national team flanker, said: “I personally believe that the team helps players grow. I don’t care in what form; I’d be happy if the team will continue to exist.”
Watase suggested the possibility of an exhibition game or another event to express appreciation to Sunwolves fans, before adding that confirming such an event would be difficult during the pandemic.