Willie Britz says it is sad to see that the Sunwolves’ Vodacom Super Rugby journey has come to an end after six years in the tournament. DYLAN JACK reports.
Sanzaar’s desire to see Super Rugby return to 14 teams has made the Sunwolves the sacrificial lamb as it was decided to hoof the team from the tournament from 2021 onward.
While the Sunwolves have struggled to stay consistently competitive and haven’t always been able to contract Japan’s top players, they have enjoyed massive support from their first season in 2015.
Unfortunately, the team’s Barbarians-style recruitment and lack of preparation time have held them back from developing in the same way that the Jaguares have.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has halted the 2020 Super Rugby season, it looks as if the team will go out with a wimper rather than a bang, with just one win this year.
Britz joined the Sunwolves in 2017, at that stage becoming just the second South African to play for the squad. He would go on to captain the team and lead them to a historic victory over the Vodacom Bulls in 2018, their first-ever win in Singapore.
‘The Sunwolves will always have a special place in my heart,’ Britz said. ‘The two years that I was with them was unbelievable. It was good players playing together with awesome coaches. Guys like Filo Tiatia, and coaches like Ben Herring were really amazing to work with. I learned a lot from them and made some good friendships.
‘It was really sad to see their journey end in Super Rugby. I would have loved to see them have another chance. The style of rugby that they play and every year they do better and better. You can see in Japan’s national set-up as well that the Sunwolves have helped them to play better rugby and more competitive rugby, which we saw at the World Cup. It is a bit of a sad one for them to leave.
‘To play for and captain the Sunwolves was an honour. I was going through two tough years in my life and it really helped. It made my family proud. It was fun and I learned so much. Being able to travel the world again, meet new people, see new places and just enjoy my rugby. Working with a guy like Tony Brown, who is the brains behind Japan’s success, he is just an unbelievable coach. It was really good for me.’
Britz was named as the No 8 in the Sunwolves’ all-time team, joining fellow South African and lock Grant Hattingh. South Africa-born Japanese wing Kotaro Matsushima was also named in the team.
He ended his time with the team with 71 lineouts won on the Sunwolves’ throw – the most of any player – as well as making 19 offloads, 119 carries and stealing six lineouts – twice as many as any other Sunwolves player.
‘It was a bit of a surprise to me, to be honest,’ Britz said. ‘My one mate, who plays for Panasonic, sent me a screenshot of it, I did not even know about it until after I saw the screenshot.
‘I am very, very humbled to be named in a team like that, especially after what happened in the last year or two with the Sunwolves, with me being kicked out after I captained the side. There wasn’t really a basis for them kicking me out, but that’s just how it is.
‘Unfortunately that is just how rugby works. One person or coach can have a massive decision over a player’s career. It has happened all over the world, where players play unbelievable rugby and then the coach just doesn’t like him, so he just doesn’t get a chance to play anymore. Fortunately, I have still been able to play here for my club and enjoy my rugby. I was really privileged in that sense.’
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