TOKYO (Reuters) - With a win finally secured heading into the last 10 minutes, there was a carnival atmosphere at a sun-drenched Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium as the Sunwolves fans celebrated a long-awaited victory in this season’s Super Rugby competition.
As the closing minutes of the Japanese team’s resounding 63-28 victory over the Queensland Reds played out, the home fans turned in their seats to applaud the man who orchestrated the first win of the campaign at the 10th attempt.
Sunwolves head coach Jamie Joseph has faced heavy criticism in recent weeks as the losses mounted but now it was the 48-year-old’s moment to raise a hand and acknowledge the fans from his vantage point high in the stands.
“It has been lean times for us as a team,” Joseph, who holds the same position with the Japanese national side, told reporters after the final whistle.
“You have to take the good with the bad and we have had our fair share of bad but I do have to say that through all those times I think our team has fronted up and looked at ourselves critically and objectively to get the performance and the win.”
With Japan set to host next year’s Rugby World Cup and a passionate fan base craving success on the field, Saturday’s win was more than just a triumph for Sunwolves supporters.
It also provided a much-needed boost for Joseph and his superiors in the Japanese Rugby Football Union ahead of June tests against Italy and Georgia.
The match against the Reds was the last to be held in Tokyo this season, with the Sunwolves’ two remaining home games being played in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Joseph himself only has one more match in charge, against the Stormers next weekend, before turning his attention to the national team.
Tony Brown and defensive coach Scott Hansen have already been lined up to take control of the Sunwolves after Joseph’s withdrawal.
Pitting the Sunwolves against top class opposition every week in Super Rugby has always been about preparing the Japanese national team for the challenges to come in their home tournament and Joseph believes it will eventually pay dividends.
“With my coaching group coaching the Sunwolves and the national team there is a clear advantage,” the former All Black added.
“We can use the Super Rugby competition as a step to developing our game and developing relationships with the players. You can expect to see the same type of rugby at test match level.”
Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by John O'Brien