Super Rugby

Tiatia pledges to improve Japan through Sunwolves

Filo Tiatia (Gallo Images)
Filo Tiatia (Gallo Images)

Tokyo - The new head coach of Japan's Super Rugby franchise the Sunwolves, Filo Tiatia, promised on Wednesday to shake up the team's performance following a disappointing maiden season, and as Japan rugby eyes a boost ahead of the 2019 World Cup.

But the former All Black, appointed last month on a two-year deal, asked fans for their patience as the inexperienced team face a daunting start to the new season with a showdown against the 2016 champion Hurricanes in February.

"We are trying to improve a lot of areas," the Kiwi said in his first press conference as head coach, joined by the also recently-appointed boss of Japan's national team, Jamie Joseph.

"This (new season) is going to be our second year. So we have got a lot of learning to do. But we are going to continue to keep improving as well," Tiatia said.

The Sunwolves joined an expanded 18-team Super Rugby competition this year following Japan's astonishing performance at last year's World Cup where the Brave Blossoms won three pool games, including a 34-32 shock upset over two-time champions South Africa.

But delays bringing in players and coaching staff sabotaged the team's preparations and as expected, they have struggled in the southern hemisphere's elite club competition, slumping to a record of one win, one draw and 13 defeats.

They hit rock bottom in a 92-17 humiliation by South Africa's Cheetahs in April, prompting criticism from former Japan national coach Eddie Jones, now in charge of England, who slammed the Sunwolves' lack of depth as "embarrassing".

Joseph, another former All Black who began his Japanese assignment this year, emphasised "alignment" between the Brave Blossoms and the Sunwolves as a means to bolster the performance of Japanese players ahead of the looming World Cup to be hosted by Japan.

"(I will) help out anyway I can" to make the Sunwolves more competitive in the global arena and to please fans, Joseph said.

Tiatia made clear that the speed and physical strength of players would be in focus as the team looks to improve on what they achieved last season.

"We are trying to find players that can represent the country first and foremost," he said. 

Japanese rugby chiefs have made no secret of their desire for the country's top players to turn out for the Sunwolves.

But despite bumper crowds supporting the team, several marquee Japan players snubbed the Sunwolves to sign for other clubs on more lucrative contracts, including Japan captain Michael Leitch and full-back Ayumu Goromaru.

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