For the third straight Super Rugby season, the Sunwolves will start a new campaign with a new head coach. The Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) announced yesterday that the country's national coach Jamie Joseph will also helm the Sunwolves.
The 47-year-old former All Blacks loose forward replaces compatriot Filo Tiatia, who won two games and lost 13 matches with the Japanese franchise this year.
Former Wellington Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett led them in their inaugural season last year. The Sunwolves also lost 13 matches then, winning one and drawing the other.
Joseph, who lifted the Super Rugby championship with the Highlanders in 2015, said: "I understand the responsibility of coaching at this level. I can't wait for next season. We have a huge challenge ahead of us but I've been here before with the Highlanders."
The Sunwolves have finished last in the 18-team standings for back-to-back seasons but survived the cull which has seen three teams (Western Force from Australia plus South Africa's Cheetahs and Kings) dropped for next year.
Governing body Sanzaar's chief executive Andy Marinos, however, sent the Sunwolves, Argentina's Jaguares and the Melbourne Rebels, a stern warning earlier this month and said they needed to pick up their performances both on and off the field from next year.
The Sunwolves, who are co-based in Singapore, also had their governance moved away from the JRFU and into an independent body, the Japan Super Rugby Association (JSRA), that will work more closely with Sanzaar.
The decision to appoint Joseph came from a review of the Sunwolves, the JRFU said.
"In recent weeks following this restructure JSRA has made considerable changes to the organisation to comply with the conditions of participation in the tournament," it added. "They have the aim of strengthening the Sunwolves' participation in Super Rugby."
The Sunwolves open their season against Australian side Brumbies in Tokyo on Feb 24. Their matches at the National Stadium in Singapore are against the Melbourne Rebels on March 3 and the Bulls of South Africa on June 30.