Sunwolves Sing the Blues
Auckland-Based Side Overcome Spirited Defence For Bonus Point Win
The Blues got back to winning ways Saturday, beating the Sunwolves 24-10 at Tokyo’s Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in a game of two halves.
The hosts had the attacking momentum in the first 40 minutes combined with brutal defense around the rucks that forced the Blues to constantly back-pedal.
At the half-time hooter, the home side deservedly led the New Zealanders 10-5 on the back of long periods of sustained pressure. After the break however, the visitors dominated as the Sunwolves tired, scoring three tries and keeping the hosts scoreless. Head Coach of the Sunwolves, Jamie Joseph said, “On behalf of the team, we are totally disappointed. I thought we put the Blues under a lot of pressure in that first half. We could’ve been ahead by another try, another seven points. Going into half time, the team was very confident but we knew the Blues are the type of team that are not going to go away. There’s a lot of X-factor amongst their group and they’re going to keep coming and keep coming and we really handed that game back to the Blues and that’s the disappointment.”
The Blues have an uncanny ability to follow up a strong performance one week with a flat one the following week. The Kiwi team spent most of the first half defending their line as the home side enjoyed a wealth of possession and territory and were rewarded with the opening try of the game. Blues Captain, James Parsons said, “I thought in the first half we created a lot of opportunities but we just didn’t finish them off. The only thing in the second half was that we finished them off and got some continuity and some phases.” Despite the loss, it was a much improved defensive performance from the Sunwolves in the opening exchanges as players made their one-on-one tackles count and executed several turnovers forcing the Blues back into their half.
The key area of the lineout was finally clicking for the Japanese side with hooker Shota Horie regularly finding his jumpers. Lock Grant Hattingh brought stability to the lineout, made several powerful carries and was aggressive at the breakdown from the outset. Battling alongside Hattingh the back rowers snuffed out any attempts by the Blues forwards to gain ascendency down the inside channels. Flanker Pieter Lappies Labuschagne made a record 27 tackles. Credit goes to the Blues though. They absorbed the early barrage from the hosts and only conceded a penalty and a try in the first half while also managing to score themselves against the run of play.
After Sunwolves’ Yu Tamura went off for an HIA test, his replacement Hayden Parker slipped through two defenders and put center Timothy Lafaele away for the opening try in the 21st minute. Despite several more chances being presented to the Sunwolves they could not find a way through the Blues' dogged defense. Seven minutes later, the Blues' forwards finally strung several phases together and spread the ball out wide to Jordan Hyland who bumped off two defenders on his way to the try-line.
It was disappointing for Joseph’s team to concede the five-pointer as the tackling up to that point had been rock solid. The second half started with a fired-up Blues side coming close to scoring only to be thwarted by strong goal-line defense by Labuschagne and Kazuki Himeno that forced a turnover. Shortly afterwards the Sunwolves started to miss tackles and their play over the following 11 minutes condemned the home side to their seventh loss of the season. “I thought our defense was really good today.” Said Joseph. “I thought we put some really good sets together. We made a lot of turnovers from our defense. Labuschagne was very good but we gave penalties away for being over keen and individuals made mis-tackles which led to tries and tries lead to pressure and so that’s why we lost the game in my view.”
Two quick tries to Auckland’s no. 8 Akira Ioane and replacement back Dalton Papalii, both benefiting from weak tackling by the hosts, sealed the win. Fly-half Stephen Perofeta’s conversions gave the Blues a nine-point lead going into the final quarter. Blues Head Coach Tana Umaga said, “We did talk about defense at half-time and I think the players understand the scenarios they were in and were able to create some turnovers. We’ve worked hard in that area in these last couple of weeks and so in the end we get the rewards so it was good that the players made those decisions.”
With four minutes remaining, wing Hyland bagged his second and put the bonus point icing on the cake for the Blues. It was a strong first half performance by the Sunwolves but ultimately defensive lapses in the second half proved their undoing. Joseph said, “Honestly, I thought we deserved better than that result. I thought we played enough rugby in that second half to put the Blues under pressure but we were just not good enough to take that win and that is where we are at the moment and that is what we’re going to work on.” Next week the Sunwolves have a tough match against the Crusaders on their first leg of their New Zealand tour while the Blues will face the Highlanders back home at Eden Park.
- Todd Phillips: April 14th 2018
Sunwolves 10 -24 Blues
Photos: Sachiyo Karamatsu April 14th 2018: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground