The new coach of Japan’s Sunwolves Super Rugby side said Monday he was targeting a top-five finish next season, despite the team being on the wrong end of multiple hidings in recent years.
New Zealander Jamie Joseph, who also coaches Japan’s national team, told reporters that fans could expect a “much stronger team than we’ve had in the past two seasons”, as he unveiled a new squad.
Among a dozen new faces presented were South African-born flanker Wimpie van der Walt and Jaba Bregvadze, a Georgian hooker who has played top-flight rugby in England and France.
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Joseph also vowed his team would play “consistent and attractive rugby … rugby that people want to come and watch and support.”
Bregvadze would give the team much-needed support in the set-piece, said Joseph, who also highlighted defence as a major area for improvement, as the team leaked 671 points last season.
The Tokyo-based Sunwolves are playing in the five-team Australian conference this season and are replacing Western Force who were controversially dumped out of the competition as the format downsized.
They have suffered drubbings including 92-17, 83-17 and 94-7 over the past two seasons and Super Rugby’s chief executive Andy Marinos has described their performance as “disappointing” and said “improvement is necessary.”
The Sunwolves have just come off another horror season in the southern hemisphere’s elite club competition, winning just two games.
They won only one of 15 games the year before, in a chastening debut season.
They open their campaign on February 24 against the Brumbies.
The Sunwolves said they were aiming to be Super Rugby champions within five years.
2018 Sunwolves squad
Keita Inagaki, Asaeli Aivalu, Jiwon Koo, Ruan Smith, Craig Millar
Jaba Bradvadze, Shota Horie
Grant Hattingh, Sam Wykes, Kazuki Himeno, Uwe Helu,
Edward Quirk, Shunsuke Nunomaki, Wimpie van der Walt, Willem Britz, Michael Leitch
Yu Tamura, Hayden Parker
Harumichi Tatekawa, Timoth Lafaele
Gerhard van den Heever, Kenki Fukuoka, Akihit Yamada, Lamano Lava Lemeki, Robbie Robinson