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