The Lions claimed a 26-13 bonus-point win against the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday, reports SIMON BORCHARDT.
Warren Whiteley's men had to work hard for the victory in front of a capacity crowd of 25,000 at the Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium. They only led 19-13 with 15 minutes to go, before scoring a fourth try against 14 men that secured the win and a bonus point under the new system.
While the Sunwolves lost their first ever Super Rugby match, coach Mark Hammett, who only rejoined his side on Friday following the death of his mother, will be pleased with the performance. When the hosts conceded a try early in the second half to fall 19-6 behind, it looked as if the floodgates could open. But they remained competitive and gave the Lions a scare when they scored a historic try through captain Shota Horie.
The first half of this match was a scrappy affair with both sides making several handling errors. While the Lions scored two tries, they didn't show enough patience on attack and were frustrated by the Sunwolves at the breakdown.
However, the visitors dominated the set pieces and made an early statement when they smashed the Sunwolves' scrum to earn a penalty. But instead of having a shot at goal, they kicked for touch and conceded possession soon after winning the lineout.
Tusi Pisi opened the scoring for the hosts with a seventh-minute penalty, before Elton Jantjies botched two opportunities to draw level, including an absolute sitter from straight in front.
But the Lions displayed their set-piece dominance again with a good lineout driving maul at the end of the first quarter that resulted in a try for Robbie Coetzee. Jantjies's conversion came off the upright.
The Sunwolves dominated possession and territory for the next 10 minutes, but didn't have anything to show for it as Riaan Viljoen's long-range penalty fell well short.
The Lions then extended their lead when Courtnall Skosan took an excellent inside pass from Jantjies and outpaced Pisi to score in the left corner. Jantjies finally found his kicking radar, nailing the touchline conversion, before Pisi slotted his second penalty to make it 12-6 at the break.
The Lions made a good start to the second half, with another lineout driving maul followed by a sustained attack that resulted in a converted try to Jaco Kriel, who ran the perfect line off Warren Whiteley. The visitors then turned down three points, only to concede a scrum penalty.
The Sunwolves slowly fought their way back into the game, and were rewarded when Horie scored the franchise's first ever Super Rugby try after a nine-phase attack to make it 19-13.
But the hosts then suffered a big setback when Pisi was harshly yellow-carded for coming into a ruck from the side and Lionel Mapoe scored the Lions' fourth try a minute later to put the result beyond doubt.
Sunwolves – Try: Shota Horie. Conversion: Tusi Pisi. Penalties: Pisi (2).
Lions – Tries: Robbie Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan, Jaco Kriel, Lionel Mapoe. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3).
Sunwolves – 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.
Subs: 16 Masataka Mikami, 17 Takeshi Kizu, 18 Koki Yamamoto, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Yoshiya Hosoda, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Derek Carpenter, 23 Hajime Yamashata.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrink, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Ruan Dreyer.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Jacques Van Rooyen, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Ruan Ackermann, 21 Jaco van der Walt, 22 Harold Vorster, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg.
Photo: Mark Buckton/SA Rugby magazine