TOKYO (Reuters) – Tokyo-based Super Rugby outfit the Sunwolves named former Japan international flanker Naoya Okubo as their new head coach on Friday.
Okubo, who represented Japan at the 1999 and 2003 Rugby World Cups, becomes the first Japanese head coach in Super Rugby.
The 43-year-old replaces New Zealander Tony Brown, who was caretaker coach at the Sunwolves last season.
Okubo was part of Brown’s coaching staff last year and was also the head coach of the Japanese Top League side Suntory Sungoliath from 2012-2014.
The 2020 season will be the Sunwolves’ last in Super Rugby, after the competition’s governing body SANZAAR and the Japanese Football Rugby Union failed to agree on the terms of their inclusion in March.
“Supporters of Sunwolves are the number one fans in the world,” Okubo said in a statement.
“It was a difficult 2019 season as the team did not win at home. We promise our supporters that we would show our proudest form at home with players and staff as one team.”
While struggling in a tournament featuring mostly established South African, New Zealand and Australian sides, the Sunwolves have gradually improved and won their first away match in New Zealand last season.
They finished last year’s campaign having won just two of their 16 matches.
However, former Sunwolves head coach and current Japan national team boss Jamie Joseph has praised the role the team’s involvement in Super Rugby has played in preparing his players for next month’s Rugby World Cup.
Okubo wants the Sunwolves to leave a lasting legacy of rugby in Japan post-World Cup.
“It is not exaggeration that the current Japan side is the strongest ever,” he said.
“Only time will tell what will happen during the Rugby World Cup, but the Sunwolves in the 2020 season will have to be a team through which Japanese rugby can make a confident and strong first step forward in the post-World Cup time.”
“I am honoured and also feel the pressure to get involved in such important period of Japanese rugby.”
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)