Rugby: Not just making up the Super Rugby numbers

Sunwolves captain Ed Quirk at a training session with his team-mates at the Singapore Sports Hub yesterday. The Sunwolves will play the Kings on Saturday at the same venue and are seeking their first win on Singapore soil.
Sunwolves captain Ed Quirk at a training session with his team-mates at the Singapore Sports Hub yesterday. The Sunwolves will play the Kings on Saturday at the same venue and are seeking their first win on Singapore soil.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

The Sunwolves yesterday defended their presence in Super Rugby and insisted that they are not bothered by all the negative comments that have been hurled at them.

Last week, the outspoken former Australian Rugby Union chairman John O'Neill implied that the Japanese franchise do not merit a place in the 18-team league.

His comments were made on the eve of another heavy defeat suffered by the Sunwolves - 17-83 to reigning champions Hurricanes - in their season-opening match in Tokyo.

But the Sunwolves' game captain Ed Quirk is not perturbed by the negative criticism. The flanker said: "Of course, you wake up in the morning and you see all these sorts of comments on social media. But I'm not bothered by them.

"It's a growing process for the team. You don't go into a business and expect it to take off straight away. I hope that the Sunwolves will be in Super Rugby for a long time, and I believe we will."

Coach Filo Tiatia also defended the team's inclusion in the league last season. The former All Black noted: "It's only our second season. The Hurricanes took 21 years to win their first championship.

"Playing in this competition enhances the players' experience, knowledge and also excitement for the fans.

"We've got a great opportunity to keep learning in one of the best rugby competitions in the world. Super Rugby should exist in Japan and in Asia."

If there is another Super Rugby team who are in the same boat as the Sunwolves, it would be the Kings - their South African opponents in today's match at the Singapore Sports Hub.

Just like the Sunwolves, the Kings are a relatively new outfit, having only played in the league for two seasons - in 2013 and 2016.

Coach Deon Davids said: "It's the same feeling I get sometimes for my team.

"Even if results are not going (Sunwolves') way right now, it's a great opportunity to be able to play in the best rugby competition in the world.

"And this will help Japanese rugby to grow."

Tiatia will be fielding a new half-back pairing by handing debuts to scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka and fly-half Hayden Cripps.

The game will be a clash between the bottom two sides of last season. The Sunwolves, who are co-based in Tokyo and Singapore, finished bottom last season with just one win and one draw in 15 matches, while the Kings finished second from bottom with two wins.

It is perhaps the Sunwolves' best chance to win only their second-ever Super Rugby match, and their first in Singapore.

Quirk said: "We're pumped up to be back here again, where we've had a draw and two close games last year.

"We want to keep developing and blooding new Japanese talents."

SUNWOLVES V KINGS

Singtel TV Ch120 & StarHub Ch217, 6.50pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2017, with the headline 'Not just making up the Super Rugby numbers'. Print Edition | Subscribe