It has been a tough start to Super Rugby life for the Japan Sunwolves and it might well get worse before it gets any better, according to Sanzaar CEO Andy Marinos.
The Japanese franchise were beset with player and staff recruitment issues, with Eddie Jones stepping down even before starting as director of rugby, leading to a shortened pre-season and two defeats to start their campaign.
The second, a 32-31 loss in Singapore against the Central Cheetahs on Saturday, exposed their lack of squad depth as the scrum wilted badly under pressure as they let slip an 18-point lead.
Marinos, who took charge earlier this year, said more could have been done to ensure the Sunwolves were ready for the Southern Hemisphere tournament but added that organisers Sanzaar would give the new Asian side all the help they required.
“From a planning and preparation, 100 per cent it was a challenge given the World Cup and the changes that were happening within the Japanese Rugby Union,” he told a small group of Singapore-based reporters before the Cheetahs fixture.
“Everybody, just turned their eyes, to what was arguably the biggest World Cup we have had to date, to England, and locked everything out, so the preparations and the hard work that had to be done I think got put on the back burner a little bit.
“We can’t forget the significant impact the World Cup had in their country ... but with that there is a caution that it’s going to be tough and that it could get worse but I’m quietly confident they will pull through.”
The Zimbabwean-born South African, who played eight Tests for Wales at centre, said Asia had always been a long term target for Sanzaar but admitted he was still working on the body’s long term strategy plan for the continent.
If he had been longer in the role, perhaps it would have come before the Sunwolves introduction.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing,” he said.
“Its been well documented, the preparation was very disrupted and in fairness I think (coach) Mark (Hammett) has done a very good job in a short space of time to get the team out there.”
Hammett, a former All Blacks hooker, is shorn of some of last year’s World Cup heroes that helped Japan to a shock first win over South Africa and further group play victories over United States and Samoa.
Fullback Ayumu Goromaru and number eight Amanaki Mafi are among nine that play their club rugby elsewhere. Marinos said he was sad that more World Cup players were not turning out for the Sunwolves in their debut campaign.
“It has been disappointing that the best players we saw playing in Japan haven’t all been able to stay and play for the Sunwolves, but at the end of the day it’s their livelihood and they have a window to make a living,” he said.
“It is now an opportunity for the next generation of players to step up and come through and deliver. I think that is what I’m most excited about, who are those next superstars that are going to come through the system.”
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