Brumbies 'Post' Win
Freak Play Helps Australian Side Bounce Back To Get Win Over Sunwolves
Sunwolves were competitive in their season opener, but fell just short of claiming a victory against the Brumbies at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Leading 19 - 15 at the break the home side eventually went down 32 - 25 as the Australians took control in the second half.
“I thought that was an outstanding performance in the way the guys played today even though the guys are basically disappointed in the changing sheds,” said Sunwolves Coach Jamie Joseph.
Brumbies were made to work for every point as Sunwolves were aggressive defensively with their big forwards, led by Willem Britz, tackling with venom, holding up runners and creating turnovers.
In attack, the Japanese side played at a high tempo, allowing their physical outside backs to make inroads through the Brumbies defense with winger Hosea Saumaki picking up a brace.
Brumbies Head Coach Dan McKellar said, “I thought their wingers were excellent and Willem Britz really owned up in the forwards. I thought defensively he put us under pressure at times through holding us up off the ground and even when he carried so I think as a group they should be really proud of their performance today because we were well and truly challenged. That was a tough result.”
But a try either side of half-time by the Brumbies got them into the lead for the first time from which the Sunwolves couldn’t regain the momentum that had been going their way in the first half.
“I am very disappointed with the result. We were leading at the end of the first half but in the second half we let them off the hook and we let them turn the game around,” said Yutaka Nagare, team captain of the Sunwolves.
Christian Lealiifano got the Brumbies on the scoreboard first with a penalty after the referee caught the Sunwolves offside but it was the Sunwolves who scored the first try as a driving maul involving both forwards and backs put Saumaki over for his first of two tries. Ryoto Nakamura converted and the Sunwolves were up 7 - 3 after nine minutes.
Over the next 10 minutes, the Sunwolves were attacking from all parts of the field and had the Brumbies defense under the pump. After a bruising run down the right wing by Lomano Lava Lemeki, the Sunwolves were one pass from scoring in the corner when an errant Brumbies hand going for an intercept stopped the movement and gave the Sunwolves a scrum five meters out. Grant Hattingh showed his strength carrying the ball up, then Britz came close to scoring, however the ball was quickly recycled to the backs where Timothy Lafaele, the Sunwolves center cut through the Brumbies line and planted the ball behind the posts.
Hayden Parker, the replacement for Robbie Robinson who had earlier gone off for a Head Injury Assessment test converted and the Sunwolves were suddenly leading 14- 3.
Nagare said, “The positives we can take out of this match were when we ran the ball, we had the ability to create tries. We also scored a try from a lineout driving maul, and from a scrum. All the players had an attacking mind-set, and they were attacking from anywhere on the field.”
The Brumbies almost hit straight back with Henry Speight offloading to Isi Naisarani to dot down in the corner but with the referee consulting the TMO, Speight was adjudged to have knocked the ball on so the try was disallowed giving a scrum to the Sunwolves. Unable to clear their lines, Robinson had his kick partially blocked giving possession back to the Brumbies. This time the away side took full advantage as a neat wrap-around move created space out wide and replacement Lachlan McCaffrey on for injured Rob Valetini, scored in the corner. The Sunwolves then took a further blow when 201 cm tall Grant Hattingh had to be replaced just after the 20 minute mark.
“We had a lot of injuries today, our key lock leaving the field after 20 minutes and the team having to react to these injuries and HIA and that’s all part of Super Rugby. We’ll get better at that because we’ll get used to the physicality and the speed this competition’s played at,” said Joseph.
With Lealiifano unable to convert, the score remained 14- 8 until the 28th minute when Sunwolves, after dominating territory and possession, finally found a way through when Lafaele brushed off Tevita Kuridrani’s tackle then accelerated past another defender to send Saumaki away in the left hand corner for his second try.
Down 19 - 8 after the missed conversion, Brumbies were awarded a penalty and opted to kick to the corner instead of taking the three points. Following the lineout, the Brumbies set up a driving maul but the Sunwolves' defense drove them back, forcing a knock on. However the home side again failed to clear, setting up the visitor's second try. After Lealiifano ghosted through several defenders before passing to his center Kyle Godwin who cantered in under the posts. With the conversion the Brumbies were only four points adrift and would have been happy with the scoreline considering that Sunwolves had enjoyed large periods of possession and territory.
“I think it was about executing our plan and we just didn’t do it very well in the first 20 minutes, we turned over possession and the Sunwolves managed to take advantage of that so it was just going back to what our plan was which was really simple and clear,” said McKellar.
Minutes before the half-time whistle, the Sunwolves had one last crack at scoring when Robinson delivered a sharp pass to Jason Emery who had run a great line into space but dropped the ball with the try line at his mercy.
That was a key moment in the match and perhaps a turning point as the Brumbies remained within one score and came out firing in the second half.
In the second period while defending close to the line, Sunwolves got a turnover but a wild Nagare pass hit the goal post and rebounded into the waiting hands of Kuridrani who pounced for the try and the conversion put the Brumbies ahead for the first time.
“We really struggled to get out of our 22, and turned the ball over a lot, couldn’t exit properly and then we were overwhelmed by a lot of pressure by the Brumbies,” reflected the Sunwolves coach.
Then with another penalty kick to the corner by the Brumbies in the 52nd minute, the Brumbies again set up a driving maul and this time the execution was good as hooker Josh Mann-Rea rumbled over for his side's fourth try, extending the lead to eight points. Lealiifano pushed his conversion wide however and Hayden Parker slotted a penalty goal 13 minutes later to reduce the deficit to five points.
That was the closest Sunwolves would get however as the Brumbies scored their fifth try with 12 minutes remaining. Great hands by McCaffrey put Tom Banks through in the corner with the TMO being called upon again to check if the pass was forward. It was deemed legal and the try stood. Lealiifano again missed the conversion and the score remained 32 - 22 until two minutes after the hooter when Sunwolves were awarded a penalty right out in front of the posts. With boos coming from the crowd, Parker stepped up and slotted over the penalty that meant the home side salvaged a losing bonus point from the match.
“If we scored a try, we would have still got only one point,” Joseph explained.
Based on this performance the Sunwolves have shown that they can compete with one of the best sides in Super Rugby and that they have a dynamic back three that will be sure to cause problems for any side in the competition. Throw in a strong defense and the Sunwolves could be looking at toppling quite a few teams this season in Super Rugby.
“We were certainly challenged by a very good Sunwolves team and I’m just really proud of our players, our team for showing resilience and working hard to grind out a win,” the Brumbies Coach added.
Next week Sunwolves take on the Rebels in Tokyo while the Brumbies return home to Australia to face the Reds in Brisbane.
- Todd Phillips: February 24th 2018
Sunwolves 32 -25 Brumbies
Photos: Sachiyo Karamatsu Feb 24th 2018: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground