Experience, Emotion Help Sunwolves To First Win Of 2017
The Sunwolves won their first match of the season on Saturday, in a tight encounter against the Bulls at Chichibunomiya Stadium. The return of senior Japanese players, including Fumiaki Tanaka, Kotaro Matsushima, Yu Tamura, Shunsuke Nunomaki and Keita Inagaki, added composure to the team and galvanised the home fans.
Hayden Cripps got things rolling with a clever chip for captain Timothy Lafaele to chase. The ball was then swept out to the left wing, with debutant Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco racing to the corner to score the first try of the match.
The home team played well in the wet conditions, knowing when to use the high ball and when to spread it out wide. Captain Timothy Lafaele was also keen to stress the improved error count this time round. “We put them under pressure and everyone performed their roles well. There were less mistakes in this game and our kick and chase worked well,” he said.
With all the pressure early on, the Sunwolves should have been further ahead if Hayden Cripps hadn’t missed a conversion and penalty during the opening ten minutes. With a slender lead of just eight points, the Sunwolves were always at risk during the South African’s strong set pieces. In the 12th minute, Burger Odendaal picked up the ball from a simple lineout and ghosted past Shuhei Matsuhashi and Takaaki Nakazuru to score the Bulls’ first try of the afternoon.
Japanese fly half, Yu Tamura, was brought on at the beginning of the second half and continued where Hayden Cripps left off, with clever kicking and good game management. “Yu Tamura made a massive contribution, getting us into the right parts of the field and directed things really well. Cripps did the same thing in the first half and and so I was really happy with both my number tens,” said Head Coach Filo Tiatia.
Bulls captain Adriaan Strauss was full of compliments for the way the home side executed their game plan. “They were tactically very good - they kept hold of the ball and kicked well.” As for his own team’s performance, “There were soft moments for us where we gave them a lot of turnover ball, especially at the start of the match. Our set piece and mauls worked well but to be honest with you, the Sunwolves outplayed us for most for the game.”
As the game entered the final quarter, it looked as if the Bulls would just edge it with Travis Ismaiel crossing the line. The Sunwolves responded well though, using their experienced bench, with Keita Inagaki, Shunsuke Nunomaki and Yuki Yatomi joining the fray.
A combination of playing in front of a vociferous home crowd in Tokyo, the return of many experienced players, and a reduction in the error count saw the home team enter the final 10 minutes on the front foot. “The bench made the difference today by bringing a lot of energy to the team,” said Lafaele.
Yuki Yatomi, on for Fumi Tanaka at scrum half, picked up the tempo and exploited the tiring Bulls’ defence, who were reduced to 14 men when Jan Serfontein was sent to the sin bin. Yatomi and Tamura combined well to release Nakazuru in space out wide, and the Suntory man sprinted to the try line.
Yu Tamura then scored a penalty which put the Sunwolves into a 21 - 20 lead with just 5 minutes remaining. The tension within the stadium grew, and reached fever pitch when Liaki Moli gifted the Bulls a kickable penalty straight after the restart.
The usually well-behaved home crowd then tried to put off the Bulls kicker by howling, whistling and booing. It had the desired effect with Francois Brummer missing his kick and the home team holding on during the final minutes. At the death, Yuki Yatomi booted the ball into touch to send the crowd into rapturous applause.
Only 5 meters from the try-line, however, Tiatia wanted the Sunwolves to finish with a flurry rather than play it safe. “With the last turnover in the corner, my coaches wanted him to kick it out but I wanted them to play and go for the try. Thankfully, the decision Yatomi made was the right one, he kicked the ball out and we won the game. I was probably being overzealous,” he said.
The team won’t have much time to enjoy the victory though, as they now face a tough tour in New Zealand and Argentina. Bulls Head Coach, Nollis Marais, was impressed with the Sunwolves and wished the team luck over the coming weeks. “Congratulations to the Sunwolves. They were much improved since last year and they keep getting better every week. They were unlucky last time against the Stormers and today we paid for it. I wish them good luck and safe travels in New Zealand, where they’ll face a different challenge, he said.”
- Lee Watkins: April 9th 2017