Sunwolves coach Hammett in defiant mood
Kiwi coach says Super Rugby rookies have achieved their target this season
Following their 92-17 capitulation to the Cheetahs in South Africa last month, criticism of Super Rugby rookie side Hito-Com Sunwolves came in thick and fast.
Former Springboks coach Nick Mallett, who led South Africa to third place at the 1999 Rugby World Cup in England, labelled the result as "embarrassing".
Ex-Springboks flyhalf Naas Botha was equally critical of the Japanese side, saying: "Any team could have shone against them."
However, Sunwolves coach Mark Hammett insists his men have "exceeded expectations".
The team notched up their first win of the season after the rout by the Cheetahs when they defeated fellow rookie outfit, Argentina's Jaguares, 36-28 in Tokyo on April 23.
"Our expectation was to achieve a win, so it's nice to do that against the Jaguares, particularly after a really tough game," he told reporters over the phone yesterday, ahead of the team's clash with the Stormers, another South African side, on Saturday here at the National Stadium.
"You're talking about a team who were written off as going to lose every game by 70-plus points at the beginning.
"While we've had one really bad blow-out, we've had another three or four games within four or five points of a win, so the challenge is to try and get that next one."
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck defended his counterpart yesterday.
"To judge all the new teams on results alone would be a little bit unfair; the way I would look at it is how far they've come in terms of the goals they have set up at the beginning of the season," he said.
"Some teams have joined Super Rugby without even a win in their first season."
For Fleck, the Sunwolves' debut season in the "toughest rugby competition in the world" has been promising.
"I'm a big fan of the way they play; they've shown some real quality, especially in terms of their attack," he said.
"They're a growing team and, once they become more accustomed to this competition, they'll become a better side."
Fleck says the obvious weakness of the Sunwolves is their lack of experience.
"I suppose the players aren't quite used to playing close to Test-match level stuff week in, week out, which is quite a major adjustment in terms of their planning," he said.
"Teams will analyse the Sunwolves and they will look to exploit certain things that they haven't quite adapted to yet."
To that end, Hammett is keen to improve his team's defence, as the Sunwolves play their third and final match of the season in Singapore.
"What I'm looking at are defensive percentages; while we seem to score enough points in a game, we're not necessarily holding teams out," he said.
"On top of that, we've also got the limitation of size in some positions; we can have really good systems and line speed, but you sometimes are going to just be dominated physically."
Nevertheless, the New Zealander wants his men to end their time here with a bang.
"It's important that we start well and move a big team like the Stormers around, and that we don't necessarily play too much in our own quarter early on," he noted. "When we build phases and hold the ball for long periods of time, we can make even the best defences look average.
"It'd be fantastic to achieve our second win in our second home."