Super Rugby Preview: The Sunwolves
After a disrupted inception, the Tokyo-based Sunwolves are settled with a solid squad and will be looking to build on the success of Japan at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Forwards: Ryuhei Arita, Timothy Bond, Andrew Durutalo, Ziun Gu, Shohei Hirano, Shota Horie, Yoshiya Hofsoda, Keita Inagaki, Shinnosuke Kakinaga, Takeshi Kizu, Yamamoto Koki, Faatiga Lemalu, Tomas Leonardi, Shinya Makabe, Masataka Mikami, Liaki Moli, Tsuyoshi Murata, Hitoshi Ono, Eddie Quirk
Backs: Derek Carpenter, Atsushi Hiwasa, Daisuke Inoue, Amanaki Lotoahea, Paea Mifi Poseti, Tusi Pisi, Yusataka Sasakura, John Stewart, Yu Tamura, Harumichi Tatekawa, Riaan Viljoen, Akihito Yamada, Ryohei Yamanaka, Hajime Yamashita, Yuki Yatomi
A superstar in Japan, speedster Akihito Yamada showcased his game breaking skills to a wider audience with a spectacular try against Samoa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Blessed with express speed and fancy footwork, Yamada made his mark in 2012-13 by scoring 20 tries in the Japanese Top League. The speedy wing knows what it takes to win big matches after playing a crucial role in Japan’s historic victory over South Africa last year.
In a team lacking Super Rugby experience, Tusi Pisi is a smart signing at first-five. The Samoa pivot boasts Super Rugby pedigree through stints with the Crusaders and Hurricanes and is respected on the International stage through his polished displays for Samoa. Pisi will bring a cool-head and proficient goal-kicking skills to the new side.
Nicknamed the ‘Ironman’, powerful lock Hitoshi Ono will bring valuable experience to the Sunwolves pack. With 96 caps and three Rugby World Cup campaigns under his belt, the 37-year-old Ono is one of the most decorated players in Japanese rugby history. He was instrumental during Japan’s impressive Rugby World Cup 2015 performance and will provide inspirational leadership alongside his grafting play.
Despite having an unsettled build-up to the 2016 season, the Sunwolves are confident they can compete in their first season of Super Rugby. There is no doubt that Super Rugby will be a step up in intensity from the Japanese Top League and the travel requirements will add extra pressure to the new side. If the Tokyo-based franchise can get through the opening rounds injury-free, they should build confidence as the season progresses.