Sunwolves end horror year with Blues tonic
Japan’s Sunwolves stunned the Auckland Blues 48-21 yesterday to finish a second chastening Super Rugby season on a high note and silence their critics-at least for now. Boosted by a Timothy Lafaele hat-trick, the home side posted only their second win of the campaign, erasing a seven-point halftime deficit with a pulsating comeback as the New Zealanders faded badly in the blistering Tokyo heat.
The rampant Sunwolves, who won just one of 15 games in their 2016 debut season, scored eight tries to three against a bungling Blues side held scoreless in the second half.
Scores from James Parsons, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti and Michael Collins looked to have put the Blues in command before Keisuke Uchida capped a lightning attack to help keep the Sunwolves in touch at the break. But from the moment Ryohei Yamanaka chased down a clever Kotaro Matsushima kick to score after 53 minutes, it was all Sunwolves. Kaito Shigeno dived over, before Lafaele scored on a breakaway and completed his treble after charging down a Sam Nock kick close to the try line as the hosts capitalised on a Jerome Kaino sin-binning. Their tails up, the Sunwolves even forced a penalty try from a rolling maul and when Yoshitaka Tokunaga raced clear to score moments before the buzzer, Sunwolves head coach Filo Tiatia wore a look of disbelief. “That’s one of the best performances I’ve seen from this team,” Tiatia told reporters. “We were resilient and competitive for the full 80 minutes. It just speaks volumes of the players.”
Once Super Rugby powerhouses, the Blues ended their own lacklustre campaign with a record of seven wins, seven defeats and a draw-and became the first team from New Zealand to lose to the Sunwolves. “You can’t take anything for granted in this competition,” said Blues coach Tana Umaga.
“I’ve got to look at myself and the way I help prepare this team,” he added. “It’s probably symptomatic of our season. They just wanted it more. That’s all down to attitude.”
However, the Sunwolves barely improved on their 2016 record in the southern hemisphere’s elite club competition. Last year’s baptism of fire included a 92-17 mauling by the Cheetahs which prompted former Japan coach Eddie Jones to call the Sunwolves “embarrassing”, while the team’s Super Rugby future has become a topic of debate.
They opened their 2017 campaign with a crushing 83-17 home defeat by the Hurricanes and conceding 94 points to the Lions earlier this month further underlined their struggles. —AFP
TOKYO: Japan’s Sunwolves Timothy Lafaele, center, and Kenki Fukuoka, right, charge in the last half of their match against Auckland Blues in Tokyo yesterday.—AP