The Sunwolves recorded their first win against South African opposition when they beat the Bulls 21-20 in Tokyo on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Remember the IncredibiBulls of 2007 and the InviciBulls of 2009? Sad to say it, but the class of 2017 appears to be on the other end of the scale.
Nollis Marais' charges have now lost five out of six matches. Their most recent defeat to the Sunwolves will go down in history as a low point for Bulls rugby. Indeed, this side may well be remembered in years to come as the TerriBulls.
The Bulls produced yet another limp and rudderless performance on Saturday. They went to Tokyo with a reputation for uncompromising physicality and accurate kicking. But on the day, it was a spirited Sunwolves side that dominated the collisions and exploited the area behind the defence with a series of well-aimed chip kicks.
Not for the first time this season, the Bulls' commitment in the tackle was lacking. The Sunwolves crossed the gainline and broke tackles in the wider channels with relative ease. If Hayden Cripps had been more accurate in front of goal, the hosts would have enjoyed a greater lead than 11-10 at half-time.
Burger Odendaal busted through a couple of weak tackle-attempts in the 24th minute to keep his side in the contest. Other than that lapse, the Sunwolves defended with determination and accuracy.
Indeed, the hosts' aggressive defence forced the Bulls to make a series of mistakes. The visitors should take responsibility for their poor handling, though. Halfbacks Rudy Paige and Tian Schoeman were particularly bad in this regard.
Schoeman's accurate kicking kept the Bulls in the game. The flyhalf goalled a penalty attempt shortly after the break to give the visitors the lead.
From there, the Bulls started to build momentum through their dominant scrum. Travis Ismaiel fought hard to break a couple of tackles and scored a crucial try for the Bulls in the 65th minute. Schoeman held his nerve to convert from the touchline and extend the Bulls' lead to nine points.
But the Sunwolves were far from done. They continued to run at the Bulls, and only a desperate piece of defence by Jan Serfontein denied them a try in the 68th minute. This display was deemed cynical, however, and the centre was shown a yellow card.
The hosts maintained possession and eventually crossed the line through winger Takaaki Nakazuru. The successful conversion reduced the deficit to two points, with 10 minutes remaining on the stadium clock.
Replacement flyhalf Yu Tamara was called into action again when the Sunwolves won a penalty deep in Bulls territory. The partisan crowd at the Chichibunomiya Stadium erupted as the ball bisected the posts.
The Bulls were awarded a penalty a minute later. Replacement flyhalf Francois Brummer sent the attempt wide, and again the local crowd had reason to cheer.
The Sunwolves defence then won a breakdown penalty on their own 22m line. It was a decisive play, as the hosts managed to clear their lines. In the subsequent movement – the last of the game – the Bulls failed to get out of their own half.
The result sees the Bulls returning from their three-game overseas tour with three defeats.
Sunwolves – Tries: Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, Takaaki Nakazuru. Conversion: Yu Tamura. Penalties: Hayden Cripps (2), Tamura.
Bulls – Tries: Burger Odendaal, Travis Ismaiel. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (2). Penalties: Schoeman (2), Francois Brummer.
Sunwolves – 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Takaaki Nakazuru, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Derek Carpenter, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Hayden Cripps, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 7 Shuhei Matsuhashi, 6 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Yasuo Yamaji, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Koki Yamamoto.
Subs: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Heiichiro Ito, 19 Sam Wykes, 20 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 21 Yuki Yatomi, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Nic de Jager, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Lizo Gqoboko.
Subs: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 Hendré Stassen, 20 Jacques Potgieter, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Franco Naude.
Photo: Koki Nagahama/AFP Photo