The Sunwolves came from behind – in one of the games of the season – to upset the Blues 48-21 at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo, scoring eight tries to three and in doing so, winning their first Super Rugby match against Kiwi opposition.
Make no mistake, this win was as historic as it was thrilling. The Sunwolves returned home after two heavy defeats on tour in South Africa, losing 94-7 to the Lions and 52-15 to the Stormers.
This was the Sunwolves’ second win of the campaign after upsetting the Bulls.
The home team came from 7-21 down inside 27 minutes, scoring seven unanswered tries and 41 points in a come from behind win in front of an ecstatic and frenzied home support, doing what no Australian team has managed all season in 24 matches: beat a team from New Zealand.
Timothy Lafaele starred, scoring a hat-trick, but it was the Japanese team’s captain Willie Britz, who was the standout player in this epic, pulsating game of rugby.
He carried with conviction, tackling his heart out, winning turnovers at the breakdown, stealing lineouts and starting moves that ended in five-pointers, leading his side to this monumental win – what a player!
Nobody gave the Japanese team a chance in this clash, especially after their poor record this season – as well as last.
The New Zealanders came to town with no chance of making the playoffs, but they would not be expected to surrender to ‘this’ team, no matter what. But surrender they did.
The Blues started well, scoring two early tries through captain James Parsons and Gerard Cowley-Tuioti before Lafaele’s first try on 17 minutes, gave the home team some hope, a slim hope, but hope none the less.
The Sunwolves grew in stature after their try; putting the Kiwis under enormous pressure at the breakdown and the set pieces.
All of the pressure came to nought, though, when Collins intercepted Yu Tamura’s telegraphed pass and ran 70 metres to score.
Ihaia West’s third conversion made it 7-21 and, usually, that sort of try kills any momentum and fight in lesser sides.
The Sunwolves are, however, no lesser side. they hit back with a sensational score. Riaan Viljoen took the initial crash ball and was hit by two Blues’ defenders.
The Sunwolves recycled the ball quickly and Shuhei Matsushima threw a pass to Yoshitaka Tokunaga, who cut inside and offloaded to the supporting Keisuke Uchida, for the score.
The scrumhalf’s try, on the brink of half-time, made it a one-score game; and the Japanese had their tails up.
The second-half was an arm-wrestle, for the first 15 minutes, that is.
Uchida, under immense pressure, kicked forward to the Blues’ goal line. William Tupou tackled the defending Blues’ player, who lost the ball in the tackle, before the substitute dived on it, to score.
this was the start of the Kiwi capitulation in the Land of the Rising Sun. Jerome Kaino was sent to the sin-bin soon after.
By now, the home team was gaining ascendancy in the scrum and causing mayhem to the Blues’ lineout, as well.
Kaito Shigeno scored next. The Sunwolves won the turnover, sent the ball wide and after three phases of crash ball, Shigeno crashed over the whitewash to extend his side’s lead to 31-21.
The Blues were all at sea, while the Sunwolves were just starting to find their rhythm.
Lafaele had his second. It came after Uchida hacked through a dropped pass by Pauliasi Manu, gathered the kick and sent the centre away.
Seven minutes’ later, the centre had his treble after the Blues botched their exit strategy and Lafaele pounced. Jumpei Ogura’s conversion put the game, well and truly, to bed at 43-21.
But, the home team was not finished, yet. A lovely chip kick was gathered on the touch line by Yoshitaka Tokunaga and after shrugging off a defender, he burst away for his team’s eighth try of a glorious day.
Final Score: Sunwolves 48 (14) Blues 21 (21)
Tries – Lafaele (3), Uchida, Yamanaka, Penalty Try, Shigeno, Tokunaga
Con – Tamura(2), Ogura
Tries – Parsons, Cowley-Tuioti, Collins
Con – West (3)
Cards – Kaino (Yellow, 57th minute)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant Ref 1: Akihisa Aso
Assistant Ref 2: Tasuku Takawahara
TMO: Minoru Fuji
15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 William Tupou, 12 Timothy Lafaele, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Willem Britz, 7 Shuhei Matsuhashi, 6 Malgene Ilaua, 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Kotaro Yatabe, 3 Koo Jiwon, 2 Takeshi Hino, 1 Koki Yamamoto.
Replacements: 16 Yusuke Niwai, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Yasuo Yamaji, 19 Yuya Odo, 20 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Jumpei Ogura, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka.
15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 George Moala, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi.
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Jerome Kaino, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Stephen Perofeta, 23 Rene Ranger