Sa'u rejects Sunwolves to pen Blues deal

Male Sa'u has signed a one-year deal with the Auckland Blues. He is the fifth Japan international to sign for an overseas team for 2016.
Male Sa'u has signed a one-year deal with the Auckland Blues. He is the fifth Japan international to sign for an overseas team for 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • Centre Male Sa'u has become the latest Japan international to snub the new Tokyo and Singapore-based Sunwolves Super Rugby team, signing a one-year deal to play for the Auckland Blues next season.

The New Zealand-born 28-year-old, who played three matches for Japan in the Rugby World Cup earlier this year, would have been a useful signing for the Sunwolves, given his Super Rugby experience with the Melbourne Rebels.

With just over two months until their maiden fixture against South Africa's Lions on Feb 27, however, the Sunwolves have yet to announce a head coach or publicly name any players.

While incoming Sanzar chief executive Andy Marinos said last month that the Sunwolves would definitely make their debut and had contracted "24 to 25" players, there will be concerns about their competitiveness in the expanded 18-team competition.

Japanese Rugby Union chairman Tatsuzo Yabe said in April that the Sunwolves would comprise mainly Japan players.

However, Sa'u is the fifth to sign for an overseas team for 2016.

Full-back Ayumu Goromaru and No. 8 Hendrik Tui will play for the Queensland Reds, while captain Michael Leitch and scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka will return to the Waikato Chiefs and Otago Highlanders respectively.

The lack of a coach would have made securing the services of players difficult.

Former Australia and Canterbury Crusaders coach Robbie Deans was again linked with the post in the New Zealand media yesterday.

However, Deans, who has been in charge at Japanese Top League side Panasonic Wild Knights since 2014, said last week he was not interested in coaching the Sunwolves or the Japan national team.

"I did 12 years in Super Rugby and won seven titles - five as head coach and two as manager," he told the Kyodo news agency.

"I am not looking at returning to international rugby or Super Rugby. I have done my time there."

Mark Hammett, the former coach of the Wellington Hurricanes, is another New Zealander who has been linked with the job.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew, who admitted to being worried about the situation at the Sunwolves last month, reiterated his concerns yesterday.

"They haven't got a coach and that's the most pressing problem and we're told that'll be resolved before Christmas," he told New Zealand's Radio Sport.

"Clearly that's already too late. I'm not hiding from it."

The Sunwolves will open against South Africa's Lions in Tokyo on Feb 27 before making their Singapore debut on March 12 against South Africa's Cheetahs.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2015, with the headline 'Sa'u rejects Sunwolves to pen Blues deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe