By Lee Watkins
Despite the Sunwolves losing all of their matches this season due to player injuries, withdrawals, and mistakes on the pitch, there has also been enough promise in their performances to warrant some optimism.
We sat down with the Kyodo news journalist, Rich Freeman, and came up with our Top 15 Sunwolves’ players based on the 56 men they have at their disposal.
15. (Fullback) Shota Emi or Kotaro Matsushima
Lee: “Judging on performances this season and judging on the players that could come into the Sunwolves team, who would you have at 15? Would you definitely go with Shota Emi based on his performances this year?
Rich: “Well, he’s been playing very well. I was surprised because I’ve never seen him play fullback before. He’s always been on the wing for Suntory. Having said that, Matsushima looked very good at training last week…and having had this break…he’ll be biting at the bit to get back in there.”
14 & 11. (wingers) Kenki Fukuoka and Lomano Lemeki
Lee: “Kenki Fukuoka has got to start, right? He’s having a great season so far and has already scored four tries. Who would you have on the other wing? Do you think Nakazauru’s performing?
Rich: “He’s probably struggling a bit. He’s come off of a season where he’s scored 17 tries and has looked brilliant and he’s suddenly realized now ‘Hey, wait a sec. Having blinding pace is great but if you don’t get in the right position then you’re going to get tackled’ and defensively I think he’s struggled quite a bit – he’s not the biggest player.”
Lee: “Well, Lomano Lemeki is coming back in a few weeks. That could make a big difference as well, right?”
Rich: “Yeah, I think it does because he’s a different type of player. He’s obviously quick, but he’s a much more physical player as well…he has that ability to really take on players and draw two defenders and with the offload look for the supporting player. If he gets fit then obviously you’d be looking at him getting back.”
12 & 13 (Inside and outside centres) Harumichi Tatekawa and William Tupou
Rich: “Tualagi would maybe be one of those, as Mr. Jones has now dubbed them, a ‘finisher.’ Once Tatekawa is fit, I’d like to see Tatekawa and Tupou possibly get together because you have got a very good defensive outside centre and obviously Tatekawa is a great ball player and creator – and has a great passing game off of both hands. Obviously as a captain he’s one of those players that the other players look up to.”
10 (Fly Half) Takuya Yamasawa
Rich: “If I was to sit there and say who I think should be Japan’s fly half at the 2019 World Cup, I would say Yamasawa. I think he’s an outstanding talent, but you don’t want to rush him back (from a long-term injury)…I think the big difference between him and some of the other names that are on that list is that he does control the game.”
Lee: “And he’s so fast as well – it’s like having another winger on the pitch, isn’t it?”
Rich: “A big advantage he has got as well is that he has played alongside Berrick Barnes…who is a great mentor.”
9. (Scrum half) Fumiaki Tanaka
Lee: “At the moment, Uchida has been starting and I remember Taqele Naiyaravoro, in our interview, said that he was the player to look out for – but he’s getting a lot of flak at the moment. Shigeno has been coming on in the second half and injecting a bit of pace into the performances and so do you think Shigeno should be starting ahead of Uchida?”
Rich: “Tough one, that one! Shigeno does what he does well, coming off (the bench) like that when players are a bit tired and he has that slightly different game. Obviously, in an ideal world, you want Tanaka starting anyway! Tanaka – his leadership role, his vision, his defensive work is unbelievable, especially for such a small man. Hopefully by April he’ll have had a bit of a break and I would like to see Tanaka back in the side.”
If you would like to find out who makes the rest of the top 15, please listen to the JRugby Podcast #22 Rich Freeman: Sunwolves Review. Rich also talks about his impressions of the season so far, the rise of Chinese rugby and Jamie Joseph’s recent comments on Eddie Jones. Please listen directly on our website, on iTunes or on Sound Cloud.