Sunwolves begin training camp

Date published: February 9 2016

Sunwolves got the ball rolling on Monday, literally, in their first ever practice session in the first of two week-long training camps in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture.

After meeting one another for the first time last week in northern Tokyo, where the team undertook medical tests and basic administrative tasks, head coach Mark Hammett can now look ahead to stamping his mark on the side in the 19 days available before their season opener against Lions on February 27.

Hammett, who on the eve of the team’s first training session split his troops into four groups for a short relay race to boost team togetherness, said: “I want to the listen to the players’ ideas too. The first day is about building team spirit quickly. We have to believe in one another and make do.”

Fans of the Japanese Super Rugby franchise will see their team in action for the first time in Saturday when the Sunwolves take on a Top League XV.

When asked about the lack of preparation, Hammett stated: “It’s not ideal, but there’s nothing we can do about it now. I want to use as many players as possible.”

In a week where another highly-skilled Japan international put pen to paper for a rival Super Rugby franchise with Kotaro Matsushima joining Melbourne Rebels, it has become evident that Sunwolves is sadly not the first-choice destination for Japan’s elite when it comes to Super Rugby.

The past fortnight has seen Kensuke Hatakeyama join Premiership outfit Newcastle Falcons on a short-term contract, while Hiroshi Yamamoto will have a trial for New Zealand team Chiefs, where if successful, he will be re-united with fellow Brave Blossom, Michael Leitch.

One of the few members of the Sunwolves team to have featured for Japan in their sensational 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign is Shinya Makabe, who on Friday explained his reasons for joining Mark Hammett’s team.

“I joined because I want to increase the number of games I play and gain international experience ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. I’ll do my upmost to develop Japanese rugby," he said.

“I want to show our ‘Japaneseness’. I think there are players with bigger bodies and more pace than the Japanese (in Super Rugby). I want to see to what extent we can overcome that."

Hitoshi Ono, who incidentally made way for Makabe in the second half of their famous defeat of South Africa in September, is another forward with a wealth of experience at international level for Japan.

Capped 96 times by the Brave Blossoms, the 37-year-old is expected to play a major role in the development of the younger players during the Sunwolves’ maiden Super Rugby campaign.

“We were able to put into practice things we discussed at the first meeting. The level (of rugby) for each individual is high,” enthused the Toshiba lock, whose team finished runners-up to Panasonic in this season’s Top League.

On Hammett, who is just six years older than Ono, he said: “He’s a bit like John Kirwan, who coached Japan at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.”

by Oliver Trenchard in Tokyo