Ex-Hurricanes boss Mark Hammett to coach Japan’s Sunwolves in Super 18
Asia’s first Super Rugby club unveils line-up featuring 15 test veterans and 10 members of Brave Blossoms squad from RWC 2015
New Zealander Mark Hammett was confirmed as the inaugural coach of Japan’s new Super Rugby team the Sunwolves on Monday, unveiled at a news conference just over two months before their maiden match.
The former All Blacks hooker, who had four seasons in charge of the Wellington-based Hurricanes, also revealed the Tokyo and Singapore-based team’s 34-man squad for their first season.
The squad contained 15 players with test experience and 10 of the Japan squad who stunned rugby by beating South Africa at the 2015 World Cup in England and went on to win three games.
As well as a majority of players based at Japanese clubs, the playing group featured Argentina loose-forward Tomás Leonardi, Springboks tourist Riaan Viljoen and former Queensland Reds flanker Eddie Quirk.The Sunwolves will join an expanded 18-team Super Rugby competition with Argentina’s Jaguares and South Africa’s Kings the two other new teams.
Sporting a red and orange strip that was also unveiled on Monday, the first Asian Super Rugby side will play in one of the South Africa conferences along with the Bulls, Cheetahs and Stormers.
The announcements might go some way to easing concerns in southern hemisphere rugby circles about how competitive the Sunwolves will be in their first season with so little time remaining before they take on South Africa’s Lions on 27 February 2016.
Hammett coached the Hurricanes from 2011-14 before he left to become the Cardiff Blues director of rugby but returned home earlier this year for personal reasons.
He was a foundation player for the Canterbury Crusaders in 1996 and played 81 games for the team, winning three titles.
He earned 29 caps for the All Blacks from 1999 until 2003 before a neck injury forced him into retirement.
Eddie Jones, the former Japan coach now with England, was supposed to oversee the Sunwolves’ first season but announced before the World Cup that he would be stepping down, citing a lack of ambition at the Japan Rugby Football Union.
Another former All Blacks forward, Jamie Joseph, is favourite to succeed Jones as coach of the Brave Blossoms national side after leading the Highlanders to their first Super Rugby title earlier this year.