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Sunwolves Japanese team ready for Super Rugby reset after horror year

The Tokyo-based franchise won just one of 15 games under New Zealander Mark Hammett in 2016.

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Filo Tiatia, coach of Japan's Super Rugby team the Sunwolves, at a training session in Tokyo on February 20. Tiatia says the Sunwolves have no reason to feel pressure despite a tough debut year in the competition play

Filo Tiatia, coach of Japan's Super Rugby team the Sunwolves, at a training session in Tokyo on February 20. Tiatia says the Sunwolves have no reason to feel pressure despite a tough debut year in the competition

(AFP)

Sunwolves coach Filo Tiatia said Thursday that the Japanese side have no reason to feel pressure this season after a chastening first year in Super Rugby.

The Tokyo-based franchise won just one of 15 games under New Zealander Mark Hammett in 2016, while former Japan coach Eddie Jones called them "embarrassing" after a 92-17 mauling by the Cheetahs.

But Tiatia told AFP the Sunwolves had learnt from that baptism of fire as he prepares for this weekend's season-opener at home to the defending champion, the Wellington Hurricanes.

"We're under no illusions," he said in an interview before training.

Filo Tiatia, coach of Japan's Super Rugby team the Sunwolves, oversees a training session in Tokyo on February 20. Tiatia says the Sunwolves have no reason to feel pressure despite a tough debut year in the competition play

Filo Tiatia, coach of Japan's Super Rugby team the Sunwolves, oversees a training session in Tokyo on February 20. Tiatia says the Sunwolves have no reason to feel pressure despite a tough debut year in the competition

(AFP)

"A lot of people are saying we're going to get pumped (thrashed) every game," added the 45-year-old, who took over from his countryman Hammett after holding an assistant's role in the team's inaugural season.

"But I don't think we need to feel pressure. The fact of the matter is that we came 18th out of 18 teams last year but there were a lot of lessons.

"Our major focus is to keep learning and keep improving. It's only our second time at the dance."

The Sunwolves joined Super Rugby following Japan's astonishing performance at the 2015 World Cup, where the Brave Blossoms won three games under Jones, the current England coach, including a shock 34-32 win over South Africa.

Delays in recruiting playing and coaching staff sabotaged the team's preparations last season, but Tiatia believes the Sunwolves will be more competitive this time around.

"In terms of the way we play, it's a Japanese style," he said, promising a harsh welcome for the Hurricanes on Saturday despite having had just two weeks to drill his team.

Sunwolves in their 'infancy'

"We want to play fast and play an enterprising game and we've got a couple of things (up our sleeves). It's just how we execute and are efficient in what we're doing."

But Tiatia also called for patience as the Sunwolves look to improve on 2016.

"I played five years with the Hurricanes and it took them 21 years to win a championship," said the former back-row forward, who twice represented the All Blacks in 2000.

"When a baby's born, you've got to start crawling, then obviously you hope to walk," he added. "The Sunwolves are still in the infancy stage."

Filo Tiatia, coach of Japan's Super Rugby team the Sunwolves, oversees a training session in Tokyo on February 20. Tiatia says the Sunwolves have no reason to feel pressure despite a tough debut year in the competition play

Filo Tiatia, coach of Japan's Super Rugby team the Sunwolves, oversees a training session in Tokyo on February 20. Tiatia says the Sunwolves have no reason to feel pressure despite a tough debut year in the competition

(AFP)

Tiatia hopes to follow the blueprint of Argentina's Jaguares, who posted four wins in their debut campaign.

"They're a very good side," he said.

"They all play for Argentina and had some really good results.

"Argentine rugby is improving with being involved in Super Rugby and we're hoping for the same being the only Asian team."

Closer links between the Sunwolves and the Japanese national team, coached by New Zealander Jamie Joseph, were also key to the future success of both, stressed Tiatia.

"It's really important from a Japanese point of view that the Sunwolves and Japan are working in alignment," he said.

"You've got to let the World Cup go -- 2015 has gone. Eddie did a great job with that team. He's a smart character, but so is Jamie. There's always going to be bumps in the road but there's a plan in place."

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