The Sunwolves beat the Melbourne Rebels 36-27 to open their final Super Rugby season with a famous win at Level5 Stadium, Fukuoka.
It was a convincing victory for the Japanese franchise, who had never won an opening day Super Rugby match and had never beaten the Melbourne team in five previous attempts.
The Rebels had won all the previous encounters by more than 20 points.
There was nothing brave or lucky about this convincing five-star performance.
The Sunwolves were the better team from one to 23, had the sharper attack and stronger defence.
Naoya Okubo, in his first stint as coach of the Tokyo-based franchise, will be pleased with his chargers.
His side outscored the tourists five tries to four. Garth April had a game, controlling the contest from the standoff position.
He scored a try, had a hand in setting up co-captain Keisuke Moriya’s five-pointer, assisted Tautalatasi Tasi’s 26th-minute score, and kicked four conversions and a penalty for a match-haul of 16 points.
Super Rugby Video Highlights: Sunwolves versus Melbourne Rebels, Level5 Stadium, Fukuoka
Jarred Adams and James Dargaville also crossed for scores either side of the break.
The Rebels registered scores from Anaru Rangi, Dane Haylett-Petty, Andrew Kellaway and Andrew Deegan, but the visitors failed to claim a losing bonus-point.
Melbourne could not stay the pace and trailed by nine points three times and by as significant a margin as 23 points as late as 65 minutes before mounting a late fightback.
However, the host’s defence kept the Aussies out with some late heroics, ensuring wild celebrations at the final whistle.
An end-to-end first half sees the Sunwolves outscore the Rebels three tries to two
This was a typical Sunwolves/Rebels Super rugby game, with tries from almost every attack, and some dodgy defending.
The home team twice led by nine points in an entertaining first half, scoring two smart tries by the backs and one from a set-piece.
The visitors responded with a set-piece score of their own from a nifty backs move, to stay in the hunt.
The Sunwolves started strong, scoring with one of their first attacks inside the Rebels’ 22.
Keisuke Moriya, the co-skipper, dotted down for the opening score in the ninth minute.
The move started when Rudy Paige put Siosaia Fifita away with a delayed pass down the right-hand side.
Kotaro Yatabe and April both went close before Ben Te’o put his centre partner in for the try.
Matt To’omua put the visitors on the board on the quarter-hour mark, but Adams flopped over the whitewash after a powerful driving maul, which involved a few of the backs.
April added the extras, and the home team extended their lead to nine.
It didn’t take long for a response from the Australians, who won a scrum-penalty and kicked to the corner for a driving maul.
Rebels hit back but conceded soon after the restart as both teams leaked points
It was as efficient as the Sunwolves’ and from 10 metres out. Rangi just had to drop over the whitewash for his side’s first try. To’omua could not add the extras.
The defence immediately turned to attack for the hosts, who caught the tourists napping from the restart.
A slick backline move saw April put Tasi away down the left-hand touchline for the home team’s third five-pointer of the afternoon.
April added the extras with a fade through the uprights.
The joy for the Japanse was short-lived as the Rebels hit back with a well-worked backline move of their own.
Haylett-Petty took Billy Meakes’ offload and danced his way through from close-range to keep his side in the match. To’omua hit the post with his conversion attempt.
April kicked a penalty, with three minutes remaining, to regain the nine-point advantage.
Melbourne found a way to mess up two excellent attacking lineouts just before halftime.
Twice the Australians went to their driving maul, but they could not replicate the set-piece for Rangi’s try, and the home team survived to go into the interval with a 22-13 lead.
Vintage Sunwolves stun Rebels with a hot start to the second stanza and strong defending
The Sunwolves start the second period with a stunning individual try by Dargaville.
The fullback collected a bouncing ball inside his half, turned on a dime, and raced down the left-hand touchline, slipping Angus Cottrell’s diving tackle and scoring near the posts.
April added the conversion with another fade through the sticks.
Both teams’ front rows were struggling, conceding penalties at almost every scrum.
Rebels coach Dave Wessels will have been pulling his hair out; mistakes were killing the visitors.
Hodge over-cooked a penalty, looking for too much distance and then, after winning back possession, the Rebels knocked on an attacking lineout.
The game was over on the hour
The visitor’s profligacy proved costly. When Kellaway had to dot down in his in-goal area, it set up an attacking scrum for the hosts.
It was a fantastic 8-9-10 move from the scrum as Jake Schatz picked up from the base of the scrum and popped to Naoto Saito, who had just entered the game.
The substitute halfback played a delayed pass to April, who ghosted through a big gap to score.
The South African converted his score to make it 36-13 with 18 minutes to play.
An over-thrown lineout on halfway worked out well for the Rebels. They gathered the loose ball, sent it wide to Kellaway on the right-hand touchline.
The winger kicked forward, backed his pace, beating two defenders to the ball to score after Dargaville let the ball bounce around his in-goal area.
To’omua made no mistake with the conversion.
Deegan scored under the poles with four minutes to cut the gap to nine points.
Luke Jones almost scored after Kelleway’s break, but Saito’s last-ditch tackle saved the Sunwolves’ bacon.
A last-play 10 phase defensive play allowed Okubo’s men to run down the clock and kill the game.
Final Score: Sunwolves 36 (22) Rebels 27 (13)
Tries – Moriya, Adams, Tasi, Dargaville, April
Pen – April
Con – April (4)
Tries – Rangi, Haylett-Petty, Kellaway, Deegan
Pen – To’omua
Con – To’omua, Hodge
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant Ref 1: Shuhei Kubo
Assistant Ref 2: Tasuku Kawahara
TMO: Minoru Fuji
15 James Dargaville, 14 Siosaia Fifita, 13 Keisuke Moriya (co-captain), 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Tautalatasi Tasi, 10 Garth April, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jake Schatz (co-captain), 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Brendon O’Connor, 5 Michael Stolberg, 4 Kotaro Yatabe, 3 Conraad Van Vuuren, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Jarred Adams.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Mitch Jacobson, 21 Naoto Saito, 22 Shogo Nakano, 23 Johannes Engelbrecht.
15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Andrew Kellaway, 10 Matt To’omua, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Rob Leota, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Fereti Sa’aga
Replacements: 16 Steve Misa, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Luke Jones, 20 Michael Wells, 21 Richard Hardwick, 22 Theo Strang, 23 Andrew Deegan