The Japan Sunwolves of the Super Rugby competition, at first glance, would seem the odd duck in the league. In a country where a man of 177 cm is regarded as a giant, it is hard to fathom where they would get players to go against even South Africa, Australia and Argentina, much less the Kiwis.
At second glance also, judging by the results turned in by the Tokyo-based club that splits its home games between Japan and Singapore.
The Sunwolves were launched in 2016. They won just one game from 15 played in 2016 and two in 2017. The optimists would say that they improved 100 percent.
The answer to the first glance mentioned above, however, is that the squad, as it true for many rugby sides at many levels, does not depend entirely on players from the country of origin.
A look at the Sunwolves reveals that they are well stocked with foreign players from Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Of the 48 players on the 2018 squad, 15 are from outside Japan and some of those who list their country of origin as Japan have distinctly non-Japanese sounding names.
Japanese players are represented at all the positions and they are particularly prominent amongst the hookers, where four of the five are of Japanese heritage.
Regardless of where the players come from, the Sunwolves have Kiwi coaches Tony Brown and Jamie Joseph, former All Blacks and the two behind the Highlanders 2015 Super Rugby title to instill the players with the culture of rugby.
The Sunwolves will need all they can muster, as they are coming to New Zealand to play the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday night. Their next opponent will be the Hurricanes in Wellington, who seem to be gathering strength and will be coming in fresh following a bye week.
Kiwi players have been warned against saying anything that would supply motivation to the Sunwolves, so when asked, Crusaders’ flanker Matt Todd said, “They are very well coached, with plenty of Kiwi knowledge there. They will know how to prepare for Kiwi teams – as they showed against the Blues [last weekend].