Sunwolves No Match For Seven-Try Waratahs
Another error-strewn performance by the Sunwolves, and another lesson on taking your chances delivered by the opposition in emphatic fashion on Saturday at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium.
The Waratahs racked up 50 points to the host’s 29 and was the most composed team on the field when the pressure was on. Despite the Japanese side sharing 50% of both possession and territory throughout the match, their tendency to give away soft tries with weak defense and unforced errors continued. “Looking at defense, we conceded 14 turnovers. Anyone who turns over the ball, struggles to defend,” said Sunwolves Head Coach Jamie Joseph. “If I think about defense in terms of one on one tackles, it’s an area we need to improve. But having said that their no. 11 was a pretty big guy and we really struggled to defend him so I thought he had a point of difference.”
Number 11 of course is burly 123 kg Taqele Naiyaravoro who was a human wrecking ball whenever he got the ball. The game was played in blustery conditions with the Sunwolves going up against a strong southerly in the first half. Unable to deal with the wind, hooker Shota Horie had two lineout throws judged not straight that led to two tries for the visitors. Other times, the Sunwolves decision making on attack and in defense disconcertedly let them down. One thing that was going the home side’s way was the referee’s interpretation of the breakdown. Joseph’s team conceded only three penalties to the Waratahs’ fifteen. Visiting team captain, Michael Hooper said, “Particularly in that first half (there were) a lot of penalties, put us under pressure and probably allowed the Sunwolves to really play their game and get into our half against the wind.”
In an entertaining opening period that saw both teams playing free flowing rugby, it was the Waratahs that struck first. A bulldozing run by Naiyaravoro set up Jake Gordon for the try. Fly half Bernard Foley converted and the Sunwolves were down seven points with just five minutes gone. It was a cruel blow for the hosts as Joseph’s side had started with zest, spurning several penalty kicks to take quick taps and run the ball with pace, forcing the Waratahs back into their 22. Five minutes later though center Michael Little powered through the Australian line to score under the posts. Yu Tamura converted and it was game on.
Another mistake from the Japanese side though gifted a scrum to the Waratahs on the halfway line. The ball was then quickly shifted to the left where Curtis Rona waltzed through a huge hole that suddenly appeared in the Sunwolves defensive line. It was starting to become all too easy when four minutes later flanker Will Miller was in for the team’s third converted try after an errant Sunwolves’ pass close to their try-line. Yutaka Nagare, the captain of the Japanese side said, “We really put pressure on them with our attack but our execution at the end was lacking, a missed pass here, a knock-on there, prevented us from scoring more tries. It was disappointing.” 17 points behind after 20 minutes, the home side looked down and out until Little conjured up some individual magic. The center produced a beautiful side-step to break clean through the Waratahs line and race 70 meters up field before offloading to lock Sam Wykes for his first try of the season. It was a score that would be later named Super Rugby Try of the Week. Tamura converted and added a penalty minutes later to cut the deficit to seven.
However a second try to Gordon and one to no. 15 Bruce Hegarty on the back of two more blunders from the home side gave the Waratahs a 21 point buffer going into halftime. The second half didn’t get any better for the hosts as Hooper scored two minutes after the restart through a driving maul to put them up 43-17 on the scoreboard and it looked like it was going to be one-way traffic for the Australians. But after Foley missed his first conversion of the day, the Sunwolves started to play with more freedom and had the Waratahs pinned in their own backyard for the next 20 minutes. The reward came when wing Semisi Masirewa danced past both Kurtley Beale and Naiyaravoro in the 52nd minute to score.
Then with 63 minutes on the clock, Hooper was yellow carded for cynical play at the breakdown and the Sunwolves took full advantage. Nagare slipped off the back of the scrum fed an inside ball to no. 8 Kazuki Himeno who dived over for his team’s fourth try. The Waratahs however had the last say when with eight minutes remaining Naiyaravoro smashed his way down the left flank for his team’s 7th try. That clinched the bonus point and Waratahs now lie second in the Australian conference, just one point behind the Rebels.
The Sunwolves showed again that they can score excellent tries from anywhere on the park but defensively are still a work in progress and in Super Rugby mistakes are punished by quality sides. Joseph said, “As a group of men, I can only say that they are unbelievably committed to the Sunwolves, in getting things right. They were having fun out there with the ball in hand but defensively we were poor at times and we need to fix that up.” “We’ve got real men of character which is really important when things aren’t going well and I can honestly say today that this group is trying and doing everything they can possibly do to get what we all want which is a result.”
- Todd Phillips: April 7th 2018
Rebels 50 - 29 Sunwolves
Photos: Sachiyo Karamatsu April 7th 2018: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground
Revamped Sunwolves Aim To Combat Powerful Waratahs
As they prepare to host the New South Wales based Waratahs at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium today, Sunwolves have made changes they hope will fix set-piece issues that have plagued the team recently.
Sunwolves Defense Coach, Scott Hansen said of the Waratahs, “They are a very good side playing a good expansive rugby full of international players so we’re really looking forward to the challenge this weekend.”
The two teams have met just once before, with the Australian team comfortably winning 57-12 in 2016 in Tokyo.
Sunwolves come into today’s game after a bye while the visitors secured an away victory over the Canberra-based Brumbies last time out. Waratahs captain, Michael Hooper said, “We’re in good shape. We’ve travelled up here well. Obviously losing Izzy (Israel Folau) last week, we’ve had to reshuffle a couple of things but we’re feeling good. Japan’s been really nice to us so far while we’ve been up here. We’re excited about tomorrow.”
The Sunwolves team selected to face the Waratahs meanwhile has re-jigged second and back rows containing a surprising positional switch. With Willie Britz being rested and Michael Leitch out with a rib injury, Head Coach Jamie Joseph has moved flanker/ lock Kazuki Himeno to the no. 8 role for tomorrow’s match. Said Hansen of the decision, “We need to utilize his skill set. He’s a phenomenal player. I’ve been so impressed with his applications, desire to learn and he’s got the ability to cover the back four, really. So it’s just an opportunity for him this weekend to express himself in a different role but we’ll still expect the same thing from him. That’s his work-rate, that’s his effort and also his physicality.” Props Craig Millar and Jiwon Koo are back in the starting lineup alongside hooker Shota Horie. Hard-hitting Pieter Lappies Labuschangne returns to the no. 7 position and the revamped second row sees James Moore paired with Sam Wykes. Moore and Wykes stand 1.95 and 1.97 meters tall respectively and the Sunwolves’ coaching staff is hoping to see a big improvement in the lineout department this weekend as a result.
“There’s been a number of injuries so a lot of the guys have got to take a step up and go into some positions at times which are unfamiliar. However, they’ve been nothing but positive about learning and growing and I know Jamie has done a fantastic job with them there,” Hansen explained. Changes in the Sunwolves’ backline see captain Yutaka Nagare coming off the bench to start at scrum-half and Lomano Lemeki pushing robust wing Hosea Saumaki to the replacements. Kotaro Matsushima, who spent time with the Waratahs prior to the 2015 Super Rugby season, makes a return at fullback. In the reserves, the second ever Georgian in Super Rugby is prop Nicoloz Khatiashivilli who signed with the Sunwolves just last week. He will join national teammate, Jaba Bregvadse in providing cover for the front row. “Again, this week with selection some guys have got the opportunities. We trained really well. During the beginning of the week it’s about clarity and recovery. Yesterday we trained really well. We had good energy, the communication was good. Again, the boys understand the opportunity that’s in front of them,” said Hansen.
The Waratahs have made just two changes to the side that beat the Brumbies. Alex Newsome comes in on the right wing for the injured Folau and Will Miller a genuine fetcher, starts at blindside flanker. Hooper described Miller as a player with excellent skills on the ground and in the ruck zone. “We know that the Sunwolves like to play up-tempo, play from everywhere in the field. They get quick ball there, they’re very dangerous so having Will come in - it’s a logical choice. We’ve always had a mobile pack but he might bring up a little bit tomorrow and has a good set piece and link play to add to our full game tomorrow.” Another player that could cause havoc with the home side’s defense is Fijian-born Taqele Naiyaravoro who at 1.95 meters tall and 123 kg will be a destructive force if allowed too much space. The colossal winger has already scored five tries this season and will be looking to add to his tally on Saturday. Hansen said, “We know that the Waratahs are a very good side but we’re hoping to get into our game. We’ve talked about building our game by applying pressure both with and without the ball and the boys have all trained well around it this week. You can expect some growth there.”
In recent weeks, the Sunwolves have had a torrid time with their set piece scrums and lineouts - two areas the Waratahs will likely test. “Yeah, we’ve been good defensively in our lineout so we want to keep improving that. We know that the Sunwolves had a big week working on their lineout and improving that part of their game. If we can stop their set piece, it takes a lot away from them,” said Hooper. Let’s hope Joseph’s changes to his team can get the Sunwolves back on track with set piece success and a much better defensive display against the visitors. Hansen stressed the importance of a solid defense this weekend. “I think just for us is what we’ve talked about this week which is just front running our efforts, giving ourselves an opportunity of good alignment. I guess it comes down to connections so if we’re on attack and we turn the ball over for example, it’s about the effort to get set, it’s about the effort to communicate and also be on the same page so we discussed that this week. The boys have put a lot of learning in and this weekend we hope to see a big improvement.”
- Todd Phillips: April 6th 2018
Sunwolves / Waratahs Captain's Run
Photos: Sachiyo Karamatsu April 6th 2018: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground