The ugly step-child of Super Rugby, the Sunwolves, have started off their 2020 campaign with a 53-point win in their first and only pre-season match – but it hardly bodes well for the season ahead.
Japan’s sole Super Rugby side are playing in their final season before being culled from the competition.
In four years, the Sunwolves have managed just eight victories. That, combined with their tendency to use foreign players and the Japan Rugby Football Union’s resistance to shelling out costs for the side, have made them an impossible fit for a rugby competition that was once considered the best in the world.
Results will be equally as tough to come by in 2020, with the Top League’s shift from the end of the year to the start of the year meaning that the Sunwolves have cobbled together a completely new side for this season.
Gone are the likes of Hayden Parker, Shota Horie, Lappies Labuschagne and Dan Pryor, who all added plenty to the Sunwolves’ cause.
The new side had their first hit-out on Saturday, thumping a team of mostly semi-professionals, the ‘Challenge Barbarians’, 81-28.
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Of the Sunwolves’ starters, just three were born in Japan. The extended eighteen-man bench included a further six Japan-natives.
Impressively, Tongan wing Siosaia Fifita dotted down for four tries while former Reds and Waratahs representative Tautalatasi Tasi scored three of his own from the bench.
New coach Naoya Okubo (the Sunwolves’ fifth in as many years) will have been pleased with his charges’ attacking intent, but a run against the Challenge Barbarians will hardly prepare Super Rugby’s whipping boys for their arduous (and, frankly, somewhat pointless) season ahead.
Disappointingly, considerably fewer fans turned up to see the thrashing in Kita-Kyushu than have been in attendance for this year’s Top League, which is laden with top players from around the world.
The Sunwolves will open their season with three games in a row against Australian opposition, starting with the Rebels in Tokyo next Saturday.
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