Sun­wolves end hor­ror year with Blues tonic

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

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

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