Rebels Without A Pause
Melbourne Side Step Up Pace In Second Half To Pull Away From Depleted Sunwolves
Sunwolves were thumped 37 – 17 by Melbourne Rebels at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium on Saturday. The visitors proved too powerful for the hosts, running in six tries to two with young winger Jack Maddocks picking up a hat-trick.
"I think the important thing for us is that we were able to win and that we were able to get a bonus point from the game” said Head Coach Dan Wessels, adding that his team “had two bonus point wins in our first two games and the Rebels only won one game last season so for us, just to be able to win is important".
Adding to the Sunwolves woes were a number of injuries picked up in key positions inside the first quarter that really tested the depth of their squad.
Sunwolves Head Coach, Jamie Joseph said, “Those sorts of injuries are starting to become more common in Super Rugby which reflects just how physical the game is and in our case I think a lot of it is to do with our under-preparation.”
By the 20 minute mark of the first half, fly-half Hayden Parker had limped off with a hamstring injury and center Timothy Lafaele and wing Akihito Yamada were both severely concussed.
Yamada was replaced by flanker Yoshitaka Tokunaga, who played three quarters of the game on the right wing.
“Super Rugby teams having two and a half months to prepare, are getting bigger and stronger and so when it comes to collisions we're coming off second best so I think that's a bit of cause for concern for us as a group because the season has only just got going," said Joseph.
Also contributing to the poor performance was the inability of the Sunwolves to secure good clean lineout ball especially while hot on attack as lock Adam Coleman orchestrated three lineout steals in the first half alone.
"I have to give a lot of credit to the Rebels-they’re a big lineout, a lot taller than us, they put a lot of pressure on our lineout so that's really disappointing for me because I'm responsible for the lineout,” said Joseph.
When the Sunwolves did get their hands on the ball, the tactic was to kick into space behind the Rebels defence which with better execution could have caused problems for the back three.
Joseph explained, “We put a couple of good kicks in behind that isolated Will Genia so they were putting a lot of high balls on top of us. They were winning that battle in the air and that was putting a lot of pressure on us.”
“But we were able to do the same thing. There were times we chipped in behind, regathered the ball and we were just one pass from being under the posts. In Super Rugby, you've got to take those opportunities and obviously we didn't today and it's a little disappointing," lamented Joseph.
The Rebels opened the scoring when big winger Sefanaia Naivalu found space out wide and passed to Maddocks who strolled in for the first of his three tries. No. 10 Jack Debreczani was unable to convert but two minutes later, after Coleman’s third lineout steal, quick hands down the backline sent Japanese international Amanaki Mafi away for a try in the corner, which again was unconverted. Ryoto Nakamura managed to peg the score back with a penalty before a wayward pass by Will Genia gifted an intercept try to William Tupou under the posts. With Nakamura converting, the score was deadlocked at 10 – 10 at the break.
"I wasn't happy with the team at half time because I thought we moved away from our game plan which was to be physical and direct and when we did that I thought we played well. So the big change at the start of the second half was that we tried to be more physical and we tried to be more direct,” said Wessels.
The second half started with the Sunwolves injury crisis deepening as lock Sam Wykes failed a Head Injury Assessment test. Shortly thereafter, with Genia being allowed free rein the Rebels put their foot on the gas, scoring three tries in seven minutes to effectively seal the match.
"We know that (Genia) is such a good player so we wanted to apply pressure on him, to restrict his movements but we couldn't, even though we trained hard to do that," said Sunwolves Captain Yutaka Nagare.
With three minutes to go, following sustained pressure on the Rebels line, number 8 Ed Quirk got a consolation try after a nice inside pass by Fumiaki Tanaka fooled the defence. The conversion left the Sunwolves trailing by 13 points but two minutes after the hooter sounded Rebels were awarded a penalty try for a deliberate knock-down by Quirk which allowed the Rebels to stretch the final differential to 20 points.
Joseph summed up the performance after the game, “I think the set piece mistakes in the lineout were disappointing because we trained really well and in terms of executing when we got into their 22, we couldn’t capitalize on that advantage. But it's Super Rugby as well, sometimes that happens. I think when we're having a hard time say for example from the lineout, that maybe we just need to create some momentum somewhere to get back into the game. That's what we weren't able to do quickly enough."
Things only get tougher as Sunwolves travel to Durban to face the Sharks in the first leg of their South African trip with the Lions waiting in Johannesburg the following week.
“I think before the second half we had a lot of injuries and last week we lost another five or six,” said Joseph. “So injuries really affect any team and I think I said last week we're going to get more injuries as the season goes on but in terms of depth we're really struggling at the moment. You lose key people each week and it's really hard to come back from it."
- Todd Phillips: March 3rd 2018
Sunwolves 32 -25 Rebels
Photos: John Gunning March 3rd 2018: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground
Big Names Bolster Injury Hit Sunwolves
Leitch Makes Debut, Yamada Returns As Home Side Look To Contain Powerful Rebels
Injuries have forced Sunwolves Head Coach Jamie Joseph to reshuffle his side for the match against Melbourne-based Rebels Saturday at Tokyo’s Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium. A bruising 32 - 25 loss last Saturday put six players on the injury list. “It’s unfortunate that we suffered quite a few injuries playing against the Brumbies last weekend. But this is Super Rugby and we need to adapt because this kind of thing will continue to happen,” said Joseph.
In the forwards, the back row loses blindside flanker Kazuki Himeno to a hip strain but sees the return of former Chiefs player Michael Leitch lining up as his replacement alongside Ed Quirk and Pieter Lappies Labuschagne. “I am starting to feel good now and I haven't felt this good in a long time so I'm pretty excited to go out there and start playing some rugby,” said national team hero Leitch, who is playing his first game for the Sunwolves. Forming the second row is Sam Wyes and partner Willem Britz, who shifts from no. 8 to lock to cover for the injured Grant Hattingh. The only change in the front row is New Zealand loosehead prop Craig Millar switching with Keita Inagaki who goes to the bench. The Sunwolves backline sees the most change with the entire back three out of the starting line-up due to injury. Last week’s rampaging wingers Hosea Saumaki and Lomano Lava Lemeki are out with an MCL injury and fractured hand respectively. Their replacements, speedy Akihito Yamada and the robust William Tupou will take the positions on the wings while Robbie Robinson who played at fly-half against the Brumbies will fill the full-back role as Jason Emery has also picked up a fracture on his right hand. “I’ve gone with Tupou to replace Saumaki because he’ll bring a physical presence and his fitness levels are good,” said Joseph. “He hasn’t played a lot of rugby recently but he’s fresh and raring to go.”
Scrum-half Nagare will once again captain the side but for this match he’ll pair up with Hayden Parker at no. 10. while Ryoto Nakamura and Timothy Lafaele cover the mid-field. “We’ve had a lot to think about from last week’s game against the Brumbies. We managed to play some good rugby and I thought that even though we controlled the game well in the first half, crucial mistakes cost us a victory,” said Nagare. “So we want to be able to give the fans something to cheer about this week.” There are four new caps on the bench. Prop Atsushi Sakate comes in for the injured Georgian Jaba Bregvadze. Loose forward Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Kubota Spears center Harumichi Tatekawa, and the youngest member of the squad, promising Tokai University graduate, Ryuji Noguchi who will provide cover at full-back. Sunwolves Defense Coach Scott Hansen said, “We've had an opportunity to learn from the Brumbies game in both attack and defense so this week we're hoping to put that learning into practice. We've had good preparations this week. Some boys have an opportunity to play and so they'll take that opportunity tomorrow.”
The Rebels will be brimming with confidence as they dismantled the Reds 45 – 14 last week scoring six tries to three. Head Coach David Wessels has retained the same starting line-up for the Sunwolves and has only had to make two changes in the reserves. Wessels has named a strong Rebels side, one which boasts 10 international players including nine Wallabies and the Tongan-born Japanese international, Amanaki Lelei Mafi.“ Regarding Mafi, Scott Hansen said, “Obviously he's well-known to the Japanese boys and a very good player so hopefully tomorrow we can limit his opportunity across the game.”
The powerful front row has hooker Jordan Uelese packing down with Jermaine Ainsley and Wallaby team mate Tetera Faulkner. Captain Adam Coleman who receives his 50th Super Rugby cap and fellow Wallaby Matt Philip make up the second row with an all-international back row of Lopeti Timani, Angus Cottrell and no. 8 Mafi. Half-back Will Genia is key for the Rebels in their attack and will need to be closely watched by his opposite number and the back row of the Sunwolves. “We have to understand the influence Genia will have on the game. We have to defend well around those fringes but we understand Genia’s a class player, we understand that he's going to the lead their team on. We have to be smart.” said Hanson. Genia will form a half-back partnership with playmaker Jack Debreczeni who contributed 17 points to the Rebels win last Friday. Alongside Debreczeni in the mid-field is Australia center Reece Hodge and future Wallaby Tom English with young emerging star Jack Maddocks on the right wing and the big Fijian-born Sefa Naivalu who scored two tries against the Reds on the left. The experienced former Western Force star Dane Haylett-Petty at full-back completes a formidable back three.
Saturday’s match is not only a Super Rugby fixture but also the ‘Ganbatte Cup’, which was inaugurated when the sides met in 2016. On that occasion, the Rebels comfortably won 35 - 9 and the Cup will now be defended for the first time. The Sunwolves have another tough match on their hands and will need a big defensive effort in order to shut down the Rebels loose forwards and backs. “The expectation for me is making tackles. How the players can influence the game is by being committed to the mind-set we want around line speed, also being really good communicators, organizing the forwards around and giving the guys confidence,” said Hansen. “But as I said a pretty simple role in defense is making your tackles and looking after your mates and we're very lucky that the Sunwolves have got a really strong culture about looking after one another and we strive to do that every weekend.”
- Todd Phillips: March 2nd 2018
Sunwolves / Rebels Captain's Run
Photos: John Gunning March 2nd 2018: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground