Sunwolves coach Hammett reveals his philosophy after first win
This year's Super Rugby competition has been expanded to 18 teams.
This will be the first season that teams outside Australia, New Zealand and South Africa will feature, with a side from Argentina (Jaguares) and another team from Japan (Sunwolves).
In a unique agreement, the Sunwolves will play three Super Rugby matches here at the National Stadium.
Ahead of the team's big kick-off in Tokyo on Feb 27, The New Paper speaks to Sunwolves coach and former All Black Mark Hammett about the development of the team and what fans here can expect from their adopted franchise.
Congratulations on the Sunwolves' first victory. What did you like about the 52-24 win over the Top League XV in Saturday's friendly?
MARK HAMMETT: The first half was a good game in terms of what we have been working on pre-season. The first half was more structured than the second.
We wanted to play everyone in the squad because we want everyone to feel a part of who we are.
But, when you do play everyone, the combinations struggle. In the final 20 minutes, some of the guys who were playing had been in camp for only two days.
You have to understand our first day of training was only last Monday so we had just five days before the match.
What we worked on were combinations and the contact area so we can play the style we want. Other than that, it was mainly getting to know each other on and off the pitch.
We are not kidding ourselves. We know we have a lot to work on.
It was your only tune-up before the big Feb 27 kick-off against the Lions in Tokyo. That's surely not ideal?
It's not ideal, but I see this year's function to be one of continual learning for the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons.
It will be about getting things to fit into the context of a franchise routine, how we create a good environment for everyone associated with the team and how we integrate with the Japan national team.
Speaking of which, how can the Sunwolves help Japan, who are the hosts of the 2019 World Cup? How have the Japanese embraced the Sunwolves so far?
We have to work very closely with the Japan Rugby Football Union. The best scenario is that the majority of the Sunwolves players will also be the majority of the Japan national team.
This would mean that the bulk of the national team will be able to work on combinations together over a period of time and this will definitely help them on the international stage.
Currently, we have 10 Japanese players but, in the long term, I hope the 15 national team starters will be part of the Sunwolves.
There are lots of little hurdles, but I believe what will attract Japanese players to the Sunwolves is the positive environment we create and, from that, word-of-mouth from our Japanese players such as our captain Shota Horie.
So far, the reception has been great. Rugby is on a high in Japan. There are many journalists at our training sessions, and more than 10,000 fans watched our friendly, which is fantastic.
When the national team are successful, more people want to watch rugby, more want to play, and this increases the selection options for the national team and attracts more sponsors. It is important to keep this positive cycle going.
What is the most pressing issue for the Sunwolves right now?
The biggest things are combinations and the quality of our talent. Cohesion is always critical, but that takes time.
So we will be a team always going to get better and we will be a lot more cohesive in 2017.
We do have an upcoming 10-day training camp in Okinawa which we want to make full use of before the Lions match.
You play three South African sides - the Cheetahs, Bulls and Stormers - in Singapore's National Stadium on March 12, 26, and May 14, respectively. Can you beat any of them? When will you arrive here for fans to get a first glimpse of their new Super Rugby team and what can they expect from the Sunwolves?
We will arrive on the Thursday (March 10), around 5pm, before our first match in Singapore. Fans in Singapore will see a Sunwolves team that will give their hearts in every game.
We are not just a Japanese team, we also represent Singapore. We will support the Singapore Rugby Union structure and we will conduct clinics to help coaches and players.
I believe we can take them on and challenge them. Singapore is going to see some of the greatest players in the toughest rugby tournament.
I have coached around the world, I know what's out there and Super Rugby beats the others for dust.
What is the Mark Hammett coaching philosophy?
The game is physical. If you don't turn up physically, if you are not brave, you cannot win on talent alone.
As a team, we are smaller so we have to be braver.
The concept of family is also very important to me as we will be on the road a lot (the squad will be away from Tokyo for 83 out of 140 days, including a three-week road trip in South Africa), so I will be allowing interaction with family and friends.
You have coached at established Super Rugby sides like the Crusaders and the Hurricanes. How do you respond to those that say your move to be Sunwolves coach is a huge career gamble?
I actually prefer more challenging roles. It is simpler to suit up for the stronger teams but, for me, this job is not about trying to be a super coach. Instead, I'm motivated by my role to help build this new franchise.