New Sunwolves head coach Tony Brown this week announced the franchise’s initial squad for the 2019 Super Rugby season, in what will be the team’s fourth season in the competition since their inauguration into the southern hemisphere’s premier club competition in 2016.
Brown, who was assistant coach under Jamie Joseph, will take full control of the Sunwolves first string for the 2019 season. The full squad is expected to be around 50-60 players in total, with those players not in contention for the first team playing for the Sunwolves ‘A’ side, who will compete against other Super Rugby reserve sides. Joseph will manage the ‘A’ side as he aims to combine this with the development of the Brave Blossoms ahead of RWC 2019.
The initial 29-man squad consists of many players who plied their trade for the Japanese franchise last season, with notable additions in the form of Hendrik Tui, who has fought his way back into the Brave Blossoms side in the past month, and once Scotland international Phil Burleigh, who has Super Rugby experience with the Highlanders.
Several players will be added to the squad in the coming weeks, as JSR finalise contracts and agreements with the Top League clubs over release of the players. Coca-Cola and Brave Blossoms duo Timothy Lafaele and William Tupou are both certain to put pen to paper for Sunwolves before the New Year, while Canon players Yu Tamura, Samuele Anise and Yusuke Niwai are also expected to be announced in due course.
A further 2-3 overseas players (not eligible to represent Japan) who could also link up with the squad, including Australia flanker Sean McMahon, who reportedly agreed a one-year deal with the Sunwolves as early as July this year. McMahon, who is already based in Japan with Top League side Suntory Sungoliath, is understood to have turned down offers from Australian franchises to play for the Sunwolves.
Dan Pryor and Rene Ranger, who are already playing domestic rugby in the Top League with Munakata Sanix Blues and Hino Red Dolphins respectively, also join the team for the upcoming campaign, while Otago lock will join the Sunwolves in his first taste of Japanese rugby.
The 2019 season will be a fine balancing act for Japan Super Rugby (JSR), who have set the ambitious target of a play-off spot for the Sunwolves this season. While the arrivals of additional overseas players with substantial experience in the competition such as McMahon will only aid that cause, the impact that they will have on the Japan national team will be far from beneficial. It is no secret that the Sunwolves are used as a vehicle for development for the Brave Blossoms and they cannot afford to lose any game time together as next year’s Rugby World Cup draws ever closer.