Super Rugby

How the Sunwolves plan to use their New Zealand-inspired flair to build a Hong Kong Super Rugby ‘fortress’

With two formers Highlanders coaches at the helm, the Japanese side are starting to turn heads with their attacking style

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 May, 2018, 9:53am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 May, 2018, 9:53am

The Sunwolves are in Hong Kong to build their brand and expand their supporter base and a New Zealand-inspired style that netted 63 points last round could see them do just that.

Wins have been few and far between during the Sunwolves three seasons of Super Rugby, but the coaching combination of Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown – both former Highlanders coaches – is slowly starting to make its mark.

The Japanese side were emphatic in seeing off the Queensland Reds 63-28 at the weekend and their progress is turning heads in the lead-up to their clash with the Stormers at Mong Kok Stadium, the first Super Rugby game to be played in Hong Kong.

“They have got excellent coaches. With Tony Brown joining them, he’s a very smart coach and they have got a very similar game to the way the Highlanders play,” said Stormers coach Robbie Fleck.

According to Sunwolves assistant Brown, the Japanese players have responded well to a Kiwi-influenced approach.

“The Japanese have always been really strong at moving the ball at speed and playing unstructured rugby, counter-attacks, turnovers, quick taps,” he said.

“It’s a strength of Japanese rugby and it’s definitely something the Highlanders are good at and that’s the way we like coaching. We have tried to play a similar style and I think it suits the Japanese players.”

The Sunwolves have never won outside Tokyo but Brown knows that must change this weekend if they are going to turn Hong Kong into a home away from home.

“Statistics say it is a challenge because we have never won away from Tokyo. If we keep focussing on our preparation and our performance then eventually we are going to win away from home, so why not this weekend?” he said.

“Japan understands and all the players understand that we are the first Asian team to be involved in Super Rugby and it’s our job to perform for all of Asia.

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“Hopefully we can create a home advantage and when we come here in the future it can become a bit of a fortress. There’s no reason we can’t create a really positive environment around Hong Kong.”

The Stormers will be out to curb the Sunwolves’ attacking flair as the South African team battle to keep their finals hopes alive, but the heat of Hong Kong could work in the Japanese side’s favour.

“South African teams like to use their physicality to try and intimidate and I think it will be the same on Saturday,” Brown said.

“We have been improving every week this season without any success, getting the win last week certainly gives the guys a lot of confidence that what we are doing is right.

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“Our back three are pretty exciting [Kotaro Matsushima, Akihito Yamada and Kenki Fukuoka]. They are all electric rugby players. Not big guys but good on their feet and can score some great tries. They are three guys to watch.

“Hopefully we can attack at speed and get a lot of opportunities to use our running game.”