Rugby: Sunwolves need to tighten up

Sunwolves winger Akihito Yamada collecting the ball during the side's Captain's Run yesterday, ahead of the Bulls game. He scored a hat-trick of tries the last time the Japanese team played at the National Stadium two weeks ago.
Sunwolves winger Akihito Yamada collecting the ball during the side's Captain's Run yesterday, ahead of the Bulls game. He scored a hat-trick of tries the last time the Japanese team played at the National Stadium two weeks ago. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Coach Hammett knows they've struggled defensively but attributes it to overtraining

If the Sunwolves are to stand a chance of getting their maiden Super Rugby win tonight, they will need to shore up their defensive frailties against the Bulls of South Africa at the National Stadium.

That problem cost them a painful defeat at the same venue two weeks ago, when they blew an 18-point lead and lost 31-32 to the Cheetahs.

Last Saturday in Tokyo, they were overrun 35-9 by the Rebels from Australia, and coach Mark Hammett revealed they have specifically worked on beefing up their defence during training.

"We have worked on getting our systems in defence right. We struggled in that against the Rebels and the last time we played against the Cheetahs," he said yesterday.

"We have seen immediate impact made in the matches after we worked on these areas in practice. You'll see that tomorrow."

WE'RE GETTING BETTER

We have seen immediate impact made in the matches after we worked on these areas in practice. You'll see that tomorrow.

MARK HAMMETT, Sunwolves coach, on weaknesses they have worked on during training.

While any immediate improvement was missing during last Saturday's heavy defeat, Hammett attributed it to his players being fatigued from training too hard.

He added: "There was a sense among people who were watching that we are tired. But we're tired because we were overworked. We started 'chasing ghosts' and the players were not really there."

Nonetheless, Hammett is pleased with the progress his team have made in three games since the start of the competition last month.

The 43-year-old Kiwi said: "I think our attacking shape is particularly good and I'm happy with that."

A first win still eludes the Sunwolves, one of two new entrants in the 18-team league this year along with Argentinian side Jaguares.

When asked how crucial it is for the Sunwolves to get their first win, Hammett bristled and said: "How come everyone is so focused on winning? It is not even my slightest concern now and it doesn't consume me at all.

"That's not the full motivation. But it doesn't mean we're not dedicated to getting a win. We know that wins are hard to come by."

While the Sunwolves are still building their team, the Bulls are rebuilding theirs.

The Pretoria-based side are the only South African team in 20 years of Super Rugby to win the league. They were champions in 2007, 2009 and 2010.

Despite their past successes, the Bulls finished ninth last season, and have had a lacklustre start this year with a win, a draw and a loss.

Only two players - prop Werner Kruger and flanker Deon Stegmann - remain from the 2010 title-winning squad. But the Bulls, whose 23-player squad tonight have an average age of 23.2 years, are patient as they aim for a resurgence.

Said captain Adriaan Strauss: "We've got a long-term vision. But for now, we're process-driven.

"Hopefully we'll reach those successes again in the near future. We've a lot of new faces and youngsters, and we hope this is the start of something great."


•Additional reporting by Aleysa John


•Tickets for the Sunwolves' matches at the National Stadium can be purchased at www.sportshubtix.sg


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2016, with the headline 'SUNWOLVES NEED TO TIGHTEN UP'. Print Edition | Subscribe