The Sunwolves beat the Jaguares 36-28 in Tokyo to claim their first ever Super Rugby win. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
What a comeback from the Japanese franchise. Last weekend, they were humiliated 92-17 by the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. They then had to travel 13,500km back to Tokyo to face a Jaguares team packed with Pumas Test players. And they regained their pride on Saturday with a courageous performance in front of an excellent crowd.
When the Jaguares scored their fourth try of the match, through an interception, to lead 25-16 after 50 minutes, it looked as if they would go on to end a six-match losing streak. But they were unable to put their opponents away and ultimately three missed conversions by flyhalf Juan Martín Hernández proved costly.
This was a highly entertaining game between two teams who have done a lot of travelling in recent weeks.
Tusi Pisi opened the scoring with a penalty for the Sunwolves, but the Jaguares hit back with two unconverted tries. Agustín Creevy powered over from close range, before Emiliano Boffelli broke through the defence and put Lucas González Amorosino away for a try in the left-hand corner.
The Sunwolves levelled the scores in the 22nd minute when an excellent through-the-legs pass from Pisi helped get the ball out wide to replacement fullback Yasutaka Sasakura, who dived over in the left-hand corner. Pisi nailed the conversion and then slotted a 48m penalty to put his side back in front.
The hosts' lead didn't last long, though, as Juan Martín Hernández sent the ball wide to Ramiro Moyano, whose chip kick was collected by Boffelli. His try made it 15-13 but once again Hernández couldn't add the extras.
Pisi was then off target with another long-range penalty goal attempt, before Hernández finally found his kicking radar to give his side a five-point lead at the break.
Riaan Viljoen kicked a penalty goal for the Sunwolves early in the second half, but the Jaguares responded with their fourth try when Facundo Isa intercepted Derek Carpenter's pass and raced away to score under the posts.
However, Carpenter made amends in the 57th minute when, from a Sunwolves scrum, he ran the perfect line to take the short ball from Harumichi Tatekawa and score his side's second try. Pisi kicked the conversion and added a penalty to put his side 26-25 ahead.
Hernández and Pisi exchanged further penalties, with the Sunwolves then applying all the pressure late in the game.
With two minutes to go, Sasakura broke through the defence and was tackled just short of the tryline. Andrew Durutalo picked up the ball and went over only to be held up by the defence.
But there was to be no denying the hosts from the next scrum, with Pisi putting Harumichi Tatekawa over for a try that sealed a historic win.
Sunwolves – Tries: Yasutaka Sasakura, Derek Carpenter, Harumichi Tatekawa. Conversions: Tusi Pisi (3). Penalties: Pisi (3), Riaan Viljoen.
Jaguares – Tries: Agustín Creevy, Lucas González Amorosino, Emiliano Boffelli, Facundo Isa. Conversion: Juan Martín Hernández. Penalties: Hernández (2).
Sunwolves – 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Viliami Lolohea, 13 Derek Carpenter, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 Mifiposeti Paea, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Atsushi Hiwasa, 8 Ed Quirk, 7 Andrew Durutalo, 6 Yoshiya Hosoda, 5 Liaki Moli, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 2 Shota Horie (c), 1 Masataka Mikami.
Subs: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Ziun Gu, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Faatiga Lemalu, 20 Talyo Ando, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Yasutaka Sasakura.
Jaguares – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 12 Santiago González Iglesias, 11 Lucas González Amorosino, 10 Juan Martín Hernández, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Juan Cruz Guillemain, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Felipe Arregui.
Subs: 16 Facundo Bosch, 17 Facundo Gigena, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Guido Petti, 20-Rodrigo Báez, 21Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Joaquín Paz, 23 Emiliano Boffelli.
Photo: Koji Watanabe/Getty Images