Sunwolves face Super Rugby crunch as World Cup looms

Sunwolves player Yutaka Nagare (R) kicks the ball during a Super Rugby match.

Sunwolves player Yutaka Nagare (R) kicks the ball during a Super Rugby match.


TOKYO - Japan's Sunwolves take a woeful track record into their fourth Super Rugby season with the growing threat of extinction hanging over the Tokyo-based franchise.

Head coach Tony Brown, assistant to Japan boss Jamie Joseph last campaign, will have to perform a delicate balancing act with a bloated squad built largely to cater for the national team's World Cup preparations.

The Sunwolves face South Africa's Coastal Sharks this weekend in their opening game aiming for just their seventh victory after three chastening seasons in the southern hemisphere's elite competition.

Brown is expected to rotate liberally in the run-up to the World Cup in Japan later this year with Brave Blossoms in particular likely to be used with extreme care.

But the New Zealander will be under extreme pressure to deliver results with the Sunwolves facing an uncertain future as Super Rugby bosses prepare to meet in March to discuss the competition's future format.

Critics have called for the Sunwolves to be kicked out, pointing to their poor record and the fact they rely so heavily on imports -- with players from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Fiji, Tonga, Georgia and South Korea having pulled on the red shirt.

That volume of foreigners, dissenters argue, defeats a key reason for including the Sunwolves in the first place: to help grow rugby in Asia.

However, Brown's first objective will be to beat the Sharks in Singapore before a daunting visit by the Waratahs to Tokyo on February 23.

The Sunwolves won three games last season -- their best return to date after a torrid first two years.