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Sunwolves set for surprise return for one-off clash against a Japan XV next month

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

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The Sunwolves are set for a surprise return to action against a Japan XV next month more than a year after their axing from Super Rugby.


The Tokyo-based franchise haven’t featured since they were culled from Super Rugby last year as SANZAAR prepared to revert back to a 14-team competition prior to the arrival of COVID-19.

However, the side which earned cult hero status as Super Rugby’s underdogs due to their exciting, but ultimately unsuccessful brand of rugby that saw them win just nine of their 67 matches, will square off against a Japan XV in Shizuoka on June 12.

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The fixture will act as a warm-up fixture for the Brave Blossoms, who are due to play the British and Irish Lions for the first time ever in Edinburgh on June 26 ahead of the latter side’s tour to South Africa between July and August.

The match will be the first time Japan have played a match since the 2019 World Cup, where they reached the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.

The Sunwolves side to play the Japan XV  is expected to be made up of players from across the Top League and those not selected in the national team squad to travel to Scotland.

Former Sunwolves boss Naoya Okubo, who is the current coach of Top League club Yamaha Jubilo, will take charge of the side for the one-off clash after having served as an assistant coach in 2018 and 2019, and then as head coach last year.


“I am very much looking forward to reuniting the Sunwolves to play in the Lipovitan D Challenge Cup 2021 match against the Japan XV in Shizuoka,” Okubo said in a statement.

“The Sunwolves were originally established with the express purpose of driving the development of the Japanese national team.

“With this philosophy in mind, I am delighted that the team will once again contribute to the preparation of the Brave Blossoms ahead of their historic match against the British and Irish Lions.

“While this will be a one-off reunion for the Sunwolves, I am incredibly excited by the prospect of assembling the most powerful and skillful players in the country, to play against the Japan XV.


“I trust that all Sunwolves fans and fans of Japanese rugby will be looking forward to this great opportunity to see the Sunwolves take to the field once again.”

Japan head coach Jamie Joseph, a former Sunwolves coach himself, added that he is excited that both the Brave Blossoms and the Sunwolves are set to play after lengthy spells without any matches.

“We are delighted to play our first competitive match since resuming national team activities against the Sunwolves at ECOPA Stadium in Shizuoka,” Joseph said.

“The Sunwolves made a massive contribution to Japanese rugby during their time in Super Rugby, so it’s fantastic to see the team reassemble for this crucial match.

“I’m thrilled for our fans who have been waiting so long to see us once again take the field and I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to making this game a reality.

“It’s a hugely important match for the national team ahead of the massive challenge of facing the British and Irish Lions in Edinburgh. We appreciate the ongoing support of all our fans and look forward to their strong support on matchday.”

The Sunwolves will announce their playing roster and coaching staff later this month and will then assemble for a training camp in early June.

Joseph, meanwhile, named a 52-man training squad, featuring a mix of Japanese World Cup stars, former Super Rugby talent, Top League standouts and an array of potential debutants, last month in preparation of his side’s clash with the Lions.

That squad will be trimmed to 35 players on May 24, the day after the Top League final, with the shortened squad then set to head into a two-week training camp in Oita on May 26.

Following the match against the Sunwolves, the Brave Blossoms will then fly out to Scotland on June 16 to play the Lions 10 days later.

Japan assistant coach Tony Brown, who is also head coach of the Highlanders, created a stir on Friday when he announced that he will be part of his side’s training squad later this month.

It means he will miss the entirety of the Dunedin franchise’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman campaign, which kicks-off against the Reds at Forsyth Barr Stadium next Friday.

Highlanders assistant coach Clarke Dermody will step into the head coach role for the duration of the competition, with Brown set to depart for Japan on Thursday morning [NZT].

Brown also confirmed on Friday that Highlanders and Japan loose forward Kazuki Himeno will, however, be available for the Trans-Tasman tournament as he will fly directly from New Zealand to Scotland for the test against the Lions.


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