CAPE TOWN • Japan's Sunwolves are still seeking a first Super Rugby win but head coach Mark Hammett said their performances had exceeded expectations as the country looks ahead to hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2019.
The Asian side have lost all five of their games, but picked up three losing bonus points and the former All Blacks hooker said that showed a competitive edge which even he had doubted before their debut campaign.
"If you had asked me before I took the role where we would be at this stage, I don't think I would have said we would be in this position - two games we probably should have won. They have exceeded expectations," he said.
He admits, though, with the World Cup three years away, the coming seasons are important in not just creating a team who can be competitive, but also one that win matches.
"Not so much in this first year, but I believe there should be that expectation. For Japan rugby to go well, the Sunwolves need to be successful," he said, adding there was no points target this season.
Having got together just three weeks before the season started, Hammett admitted the players were still finding their cohesion on the pitch ahead of today's clash at Newlands against the Stormers.
"We've got a mix of languages, so it is a challenge to get total clarity from everyone. Sometimes it is a bit of a guess. But we are improving each week," he said.
"One of our biggest challenges is around transitional play and being able to play things when we are out of structure. As a society, the Japanese like to be quite structured in how they do things.
"Sometimes that comes into our game, but I have been impressed with how the boys have embraced what we call 'unstructured training' to develop that."
Hammett felt the overall improvement in Japanese rugby, evidenced by their successful World Cup in England last year that included victories over South Africa, Samoa and the United States, was exciting.