TOKYO (AFP) - Japan hooker Shota Horie has been named captain of the Tokyo-based Sunwolves, officials of the new Super Rugby franchise said on Tuesday.
The 30-year-old, who helped Japan win three out of four matches at last year's World Cup, can expect a baptism of fire when the side take on South Africa's Lions at home in their opening game on Feb 27.
Horie's previous experience in the competition with the Melbourne Rebels in 2013-14 had made him favourite to be selected as skipper by Sunwolves coach Mark Hammett.
"It's a great honour to be named captain for the first Japanese team to play in the Super Rugby," Horie said in a statement. "There are definitely things I can't do alone so it's important for the team to come together and work for one another."
The Sunwolves are expected to struggle in their first season, having been slow to assemble their playing squad and staff. Damage limitation could be the order of the day as they try to avoid being mauled by the Lions.
Their cause has not been helped by several marquee Japan players opting to sign for other clubs on more lucrative contracts and to accelerate their own rugby development.
Among those to have snubbed the Sunwolves, national team captain Michael Leitch will turn out for the New Zealand-based Chiefs and full-back Ayumu Goromaru, Japan's new rugby poster boy, has joined the Reds in Queensland.
"Defence is likely to be the key," added Horie, with no apparent hint of irony. "We have to be mindful of that when we go and play."
Hammett backed Horie to rally his troops. "It was obvious he was the man for the job," the 43-year-old New Zealander was quoted as saying by Japan's Kyodo News agency.
"He leads by example, has experience of Super Rugby and is backed by the players."
The Sunwolves take on a Japanese Top League select side in a warm-up game on Saturday. They will play three of their home games at the National Stadium in Singapore.