Garth April scored 16 points to help the Sunwolves produce a surprise result and beat the Rebels 36-27 in Fukuoka on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
Who said Vodacom Super Rugby is predictable? It is just four games into the 2020 season and already we have our first upset of the new year.
The Sunwolves, led by a fantastic showing from South African halfbacks April and Rudy Paige, put their lack of preparation time aside and took every chance available to them. April controlled the game well and missed just one of his kicks from the tee, while Paige did very well to keep up the tempo for the home side.
It was the first time the Japanese side had ever won their opening match of a Super Rugby season, but notably this was – with all due respect – with a weaker squad than what they have had in recent times.
On the basis of the performances, it honestly looked like the Rebels were the squad that was assembled from free agents and did not have much of a pre-season. It is a disaster start from a team stock full of Wallabies, who are one of the favourites for the Australian conference.
Dave Wessels’ side certainly played some brainless rugby at times and simply never seemed to catch on that the more they kept hold of the ball, the more gaps would appear in the Sunwolves’ defence, putting boot to ball far too often as they desperately looked for tries.
A demonstration of this came towards the end of the first half as the Rebels were camped on the opposition tryline and had a chance to bring themselves within two points with a try, but gave away a penalty after the half-time hooter, allowing the Sunwolves to instead go into the break 22-13 ahead.
Similarly, with hardly a minute gone in the second half, wing Andrew Kellaway inexplicably kicked the ball away when in space from inside his own half, allowing James Dargaville to gather and sprint the other way and score for the home side.
However, take nothing away from the Sunwolves, who were brave on both defence and attack, channeling the spirit of the Japan 2019 World Cup team.
In the end, it was a well-worked try from April from a five-metre scrum that proved the difference between the two sides on the scoreboard.
Sunwolves – Tries: Keisuke Moriya, Jaba Bregvadze, Taualatasi Tasi, James Dargaville, Garth April. Conversions: Garth April (4). Penalty: April.
Rebels – Tries: Anaru Rangi, Dane Haylett-Petty, Andrew Kellaway, Andrew Deegan. Conversions: Reece Hodge (2). Penalty: Matt Toomua.
Sunwolves – 15 James Dargaville, 14 Siosaia Fifita, 13 Keisuke Moriya, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Tautalatasi Tasi, 10 Garth April, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Brendon O’Connor, 5 Michael Stolberg, 4 Kotaro Yatabe, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Jarred Adams.
Subs: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Mitch Jacobson, 21 Naoto Saito, 22 Shogo Nakano, 23 JJ Engelbrecht.
Rebels –15 Dane Haylett-Petty (c), 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.
Subs: 16 Steve Misa, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Luke Jones, 20 Michael Wells, 21 Richard Hardwick, 22 Theo Strang, 23 Andrew Deegan.
Photo: Victor Fraile/Getty Images for Sunwolves