Super Rugby made history as the Lions beat the Sunwolves 13-26 with a bonus point during the tournament’s first ever match played in Tokyo, Japan.
Asia’s Sunwolves have had the least amount of time together since their formation but did not embaress themselves and did no harm to rugby’s popularity in Japan.
The Lions went into the match as strong favourites but the Sunwolves took the game to them and the Lions had to work for the victory.
The Lions outscored the Sunwolves by four tries to one so they take four points for the victory and the try bonus point.
It was hardly a confidence boosting victory for the men from Johannesburg. The Lions often only had themselves to blame for not converting good field position into points.
Their hosts, to their credit, did exceptionally well at combatting the traditional strengths of their opponent. The Lions were ruthless at the breakdowns while showing great composure at both scrums and lineouts.
The Sunwolves opened their Super Rugby account in the third minute with a Tusi Pisi penalty and showed that they would, like their opponents, not hesitate to give the ball air.
After a somewhat sluggish start by their standards, the Lions eventually managed to build pressure but flyhalf Elton Jantjies missed two fairly easy chances to get his team on the board.
While struggling to retain possession at the breakdown where American-born flank Andrew Durutalo was causing headaches for the visitors, the Lions were forced to revert back to the basics and were rewarded in the 20th minute when hooker Robbie Coetzee scored from a rolling maul (3-5).
Again Jantjies missed a fairly easy kick, but he made up for it minutes later when he delivered a perfectly timed pass that opened up space for wing Courtnall Skosan who raced over in the corner.
The Sunwolves struck back with a penalty before halftime and would have been particularly pleased with the work of their forwards at scrum time.
Leading 12-6, the men from Johannesburg upped the intensity from the kick-off and within two minutes Jaco Kriel dived over for his team’s third try.
While looking promising on attack, Johan Ackermann’s men were poor when it came to retaining possession in the contact situation.
The Sunwolves consciously capitalised on these unforced errors and steadily started taking control of the run of play.
In what will be remembered as a great moment for Japanese rugby, Sunwolves skipper Shota Horie barged over for his team’s first Super Rugby try in the 61st minute to make it a six-point game at 13-19.
On a rare occasion where the Lions managed to string a few phases together without handing over possession, centre Lionel Mapoe burst through for his team’s fourth five-pointer.
At that stage, the Lions enjoyed a one-man advantage because Pisi had been sin-binned for a ruck infringement.
The Lions came close to scoring again at the end, but will be more pleased that they didn’t leak a try in the final quarter as that would have cancelled out the bonus point.
Final Score Sunwolves 13 (6) Lions 26 (12)
Pen – T.Pisi 2
Con – T.Pisi
Cards – T.Pisi ( 64th min yellow)
Tries – R.Coetzee, C. Skosan, J.Kriel, L.Mapoe
Con – E.Jantjies 3
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant Ref 1:Shuhei Kubo
Assistant Ref 2:Aki Aso
TMO : Takashi Hareda
15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Harumichi Tatekawa, 12 Yu Tamura, 11 Yasutaka Sasakura, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Atsushi Hiwasa, 8 Edward Quirk, 7 Andrew Durutalo, 6 Liaki Moli, 5 Hitoshi Ono, 4 Timothy Vond, 3 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 2 Shota Horie (c), 1 Keith Inagaki.
Replacements : 16 Masataka Mikami, 17 Takeshi Kizu, 18 Koki Yamamoto, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Yoshiya Hosoda, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Derek Carpenter, 23 Hajime Yamashata.
Ruan Dreyer ,Robbie Coetzee ,Julian Redelinghuys , Andries Ferreira ,Franco Mostert , Jaco Kriel , Warwick Tecklenburg , Warren Whiteley ,Faf De Klerk , Elton Jantjies , Courtnall Skosan ,Howard Mnisi ,Lionel Mapoe , Ruan Combrinck ,Andries Coetzee
Replacements : Malcolm Marx ,Dylan Smith , Jacques Van Rooyen ,Robert Kruger , Ruan Ackermann , Jaco Van der Walt , Harold Vorster , Rohan Janse v Rensburg