Elusive Chiefs Halt Sunwolves Recent Momentum In Rout
Super Rugby is the toughest rugby competition in the world and the Sunwolves found out on Saturday how dramatically the tide can turn in the space of just seven days.
Last week the Japanese side looked like they were capable of beating any team, while coming very close to overcoming a very good Lions outfit.
On Saturday the Sunwolves were given a shock lesson by the Waikato-based Chiefs in how to execute with ball in hand.
Damian McKenzie led the master class. The Chiefs fly-half shone in the 61-10 demolition of the hosts, racking up 26 points, including two tries and a near perfect kicking display.
The game was effectively over as a contest by the 20th minute of the first half as the New Zealanders ran rampant, scoring four converted tries on the back of some poor execution from the Sunwolves.
“The team is very disappointed in today’s performance. Once again we conceded early tries that affects the team’s confidence and morale and that’s obviously unintentional. But it’s Super Rugby and that’s happening far too often for us,” said Sunwolves Head Coach, Jamie Joseph.
The same errors that cost the Japanese side easy tries in the Lions match were repeated and the Chiefs capitalized with ruthless efficiency. The set-piece in particular was brutally exposed in the first half as Joseph’s men lost four lineouts and a scrum.
Sam Cane, the Chiefs captain said, “We’ve watched a lot of Japanese rugby over the last couple of years and one of the things they do really well is the speed of the ruck ball and they’re very dangerous if they get that, so our focus was making sure we contested the break-down, forced them to put cleaners in.” With only four minutes on the clock a poor clearance kick gifted possession to the New Zealand side allowing Tyler Ardron to score the first try. McKenzie made the difficult conversion from out wide and eight minutes later it was 14-0 when a Sunwolves defensive scrum was turned into an attacking penalty for the visitors resulting in a try for All Black Brodie Retallick.
A penalty kick into touch five meters out by the Chiefs set up a clever one-two between the thrower Nathan Harris and his half-back Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi at the front of the lineout. It caught the Sunwolves napping and the hooker strolled over for the Kiwi’s third try. The conversion made the score 21-0 with less than a quarter of the game gone and it looked ominous for Jamie Joseph’s men. Things didn’t get any better for the Sunwolves after the kick-off. A box-kick up field from Fumiaki Tanaka was collected by fullback Marty McKenzie, who combined brilliantly with his brother Damian to split the defense. With Tahuriorangi in support, the ball was shifted to winger Solomon Alaimalo who ran in unopposed for the first of his brace under the posts.
“I’d just like to acknowledge the Chiefs. These guys are prolific counter-attackers and if you make a mistake they make you pay and obviously we made far too many mistakes as a side and they made us pay,” rued Joseph.
The Sunwolves, despite their set-piece woes, tried to up the tempo in attack and had several strong forays into the Chiefs half but handling errors prevented the home side from putting any real pressure on the Kiwi team. Willie Britz, Sunwolves team captain said, “There were a few soft tries in the first half. They scored three, four good tries and we were on the chase after that. We tried to have a go but we made a few mistakes, and when you play catch-up rugby it’s always difficult.” Local hero Hosea Saumaki looked to have scored in the 24th minute but was adjudged by the TMO to have knocked the ball on over the try line. Sunwolves didn’t give up though and five minutes later were rewarded with a try by winger Semisi Masirewa who was a late replacement for the injured Kotaro Matsushima. With Tamura unable to convert from the sideline the teams went into the changing sheds at 28-5.
Joseph’s men started the second half with a bang, Saumaki firmly planting the ball down for a five pointer after fending off Harris then beating McKenzie to score. Tamura once again missed the conversion but the deficit had been cut to 18 points and the home fans had something to cheer about.
The excitement was short-lived however as McKenzie crossed the whitewash four minutes later. Four more tries followed with Alaimalo and McKenzie picking up their second each. Liam Polwart and Sean Wainui then completed the rout and resigned the Sunwolves to their fifth consecutive defeat of the season. “We like to play quickly as well so I think it made for an entertaining game. There were a lot of breaks and a few tries. It was a pretty special occasion to be here playing in Tokyo. Awesome crowd, awesome atmosphere,” said Cane.
The Sunwolves’ problems are clear to see and the question is whether the team can bounce back from a setback like this to secure their first win of the competition. “As a team we’re not lacking belief because we’ve scored enough points to win games.” Joseph said. “We’re just not composed at times, not smart enough at times, and we really need to get better at those two or three things. If we can do that then we’re going to start winning games at this level.” “Super Rugby is unrelenting. We’ve come up against some top teams in the first five games of the competition, and it’s only going to get tougher.” The Sunwolves have a bye next week and a lot to work on as they prepare to host a resurgent Warratahs team at Chichibunomiya in a fortnight’s time.
- Todd Phillips: March 24th 2018
Sunwolves 10 - 61 Chiefs
Photos: John Gunning March 24th 2018: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground