In a lugubrious-looking stadium filled with only but a handful of devoted rugby enthusiasts, Japan’s Sunwolves played out their defeat against the previous year finalists, South Africa’s Lions.
The team was plagued with low morale even before the match begun — just the day before, SANZAAR, the Southern Hemisphere rugby body announced a harrowing decision to axe the Sunwolves after their 2020 season. Despite the continued, arduous efforts from Head Coach Tony Brown to assure the fanbase that the Sunwolves would carry on displaying the best version of their game, few expected the Sunwolves to clinch a victory back home.
The announcement made by SANZAAR could not have come at a worse time — the Rugby World Cup was then stated to kick off in less than six months in Tokyo. How would the Sunwolves reasonably carry on with the resolve to stay speedy, united, and fearless — much less back on home ground where national pride is cardinal? There are few slaps across the face for the Asian Rugby Community as big as this.
The news and negative sentiment spread quickly. Japan’s Sunwolves CEO, Yuji Watase felt responsible for his failure to expand the influence of Asian rugby. Yet, Head Coach Tony Brown exclaimed that the possible existence of bad blood between the Lions and the Sunwolves might have played a pivotal role in the decision to dismiss the team in the upcoming 2021 competition. Citing the resentment of a prior humiliating loss in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, he suggests that the South African team harboured contempt for the “underdog” Japanese rugby team.
But the truth stands: regardless of the reasons or proclamations, the future of the Sunwolves is filled with uncertainty and doubt.
Photos by Nigel Noah Chan of the DANAMIC Team.