Rugby: Hammett employs twofold strategy

Sunwolves fly-half Harumichi Tatekawa (right) during a training session at the National Stadium yesterday.
Sunwolves fly-half Harumichi Tatekawa (right) during a training session at the National Stadium yesterday.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Sunwolves fly-half Harumichi Tatekawa (right) during a training session at the National Stadium yesterday.
ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Captain rested for clash with Stormers today, but Sunwolves the backbone of national side

Appearances do not tell the full story. Mark Hammett was bare-headed at the National Stadium yesterday, but he was - metaphorically - wearing two hats.

Not only is he the coach of the Sunwolves, the Super Rugby side that have won only a solitary game in this, their debut season, but he is also the interim coach of Japan's national rugby team.

The chorus of criticism levelled against the Sunwolves reached a crescendo last month after what was hailed as an "embarrassing" 92-17 thrashing at the hands of the Cheetahs on April 15.

Among the big names who weighed in with criticism was former Japan coach Eddie Jones, who said: "They are terrible... they didn't put professional people in place, and that's why they've got such a poor squad."

But Hammett, a former All Blacks hooker, showed restraint when reminded of Jones' words.

"The only thing that offends me," he said, "is that, in the coaching world, we know what a tough life it is, particularly when you're up against (criticism) and the Sunwolves have been up against it right from the start.

BEST USE OF RESOURCES

Through the next three weeks (leading to) the international season, we have to keep considering how we manage players.

MARK HAMMETT, the interim Japan coach who is also the coach of the Sunwolves.

"So when comments come like that, it's more of an attack on the (Sunwolves) coaching staff, and that is what I struggle with."

With three games remaining before the one-month international break, the Sunwolves take on the Stormers at the National Stadium today and are hoping for a better result than the 46-19 defeat when the two sides last met, in Cape Town last month.

Sunwolves captain Shota Horie will not figure in tonight's match but Hammett said: "If we had the luxury of more players, I'd give players like Shota and Harumichi (Tatekawa) more time off."

Rotating his national players is a key factor. "Through the next three weeks (leading to) the international season, we have to keep considering how we manage the players."

Hammett will make his debut as national coach on June 11 in Vancouver, when the Brave Blossoms take on Canada before two matches against Scotland.

Of the 43 names on the provisional list for the national squad, Hammett has included 19 Sunwolves.

Though he needs to rely on a translator to communicate with his team, language is less of a barrier now and they have developed a sense of familiarity with each other.

"We don't necessarily have to make big changes to the (national) team because we have developed more cohesion and understanding among these players," he said.

"From a selection perspective, it allows me to see... players' strengths and weaknesses which would (otherwise) take a month or up to a season."

When asked to compare Jones and Hammett, inside-centre Tatekawa, 26, who played in all four World Cup matches last year, said: "Eddie (adopted) a top-down approach. Hammett listens to the players. That puts more responsibility on the players, but there's more discussion among the players and the coaches."

Back in Singapore for the final time this season, the Sunwolves are hoping for a home win after two narrow losses at Kallang (31-32 to the Cheetahs and 27-30 to the Bulls).

This could be their best chance of achieving that with Stormers coach Robbie Fleck experimenting with a different approach.

He said: "We're going for more breakaways and a more ball-in-hands approach, which is not what South Africa rugby is accustomed to or known for."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2016, with the headline 'Hammett employs twofold strategy'. Print Edition | Subscribe