Japanese feel they're in better shape now

If the Sunwolves are feeling the sting of defeat, it is not evident.

Make that three defeats, actually. A maiden Super Rugby win is overdue for the Japanese team, who returned to Singapore yesterday declaring they are a better prepared and an improved side from their last visit two weeks ago.

Said captain Shota Horie of tomorrow's match against the Bulls: "Physically, we are better conditioned, and we've worked on areas that needed improvements, such as our connections from side to side in our defence.

"We are also focused on starting the second half well."

Co-based in Japan and Singapore, the Sunwolves came closest to winning their first Super Rugby match the last time they played at the National Stadium on March 12.

Despite racing to a 31-13 lead against the Cheetahs, they did not score another point in the remaining 37 minutes of the match and eventually lost by just one point.

The team then suffered their heaviest defeat last Saturday, as they were swept aside 35-9 by Australian side Rebels in Tokyo.

But the pain, if any, did not show as they arrived, as Horie and right flanker Akihito Yamada appeared smiling and relaxed.

When asked if it is frustrating to keep losing, Horie, a 30-year-old hooker, said: "Yes, of course we are frustrated and we are not going to forget everything that has happened. We learn from it and improve. Right now, we have the right mental attitude to win."

They will continue to rely on their grit and their signature low-tackling playing style.

Said Horie: "(We'll use) low tackles which they (opponents) won't like. And no matter how many times we get blown away, we'll get back up on our feet and keep chopping away."

On paper, tomorrow's match against the Pretoria-based Bulls, one of six South African franchises in the league, should be an easier prospect than the May 14 game against the Stormers, who finished third last year.

Having won three of four games so far, the Stormers should be the strongest of the three opponents the Sunwolves face in Singapore.

The significance of tomorrow's encounter is not lost on Yamada, 30. Having scored a hat-trick of tries in the first half in the tantalisingly close game against the Cheetahs, he said: "It's a must-win game for the team."

Alvin Chia

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2016, with the headline 'Japanese feel they're in better shape now'. Print Edition | Subscribe