Israel Folau scored a brace as the Waratahs claimed a thrilling 31-30 win against the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson will be pleased that his side was able to come away with their first win of the Vodacom Super Rugby season despite losing the gainline, scrum and breakdown battles.
On several occasions the Waratahs’ backs were wasteful, especially in the first half. But there were no such problems for Folau as he unlocked the Sunwolves’ defence twice in five minutes. That saw him break Wallabies legend Joe Roff’s (57) record as Australia’s all-time top try-scorer in the competition.
The odds were stacked against the Sunwolves, but they deserve credit for pushing this Waratahs side all the way and denying them a try-scoring bonus point.
The Sunwolves took an early lead when their South African export Gerhard van den Heever, who looked lively throughout the match, scored the opening try after running a good support line. It didn’t take the Waratahs long to get on level terms, as Sunwolves centre Shane Gates’ ill-timed attempted chip kick hit Kurtley Beale on the chest and allowed him free passage to the line.
Flyhalf Hayden Parker slotted a penalty for the hosts, but then Folau worked his magic for two quick scores to put the Waratahs 17-10 up. However, a 10-point haul in the last five minutes of the half, including a try for Super Rugby debutant and former New Zealand basketball player Tom Rowe, saw the Sunwolves take a surprising but deserved three-point advantage into the break.
The game was on a knife’s edge throughout the second half as the lead switched hands regularly.
Parker kicked a third penalty, but the Waratahs used their forwards to batter the Sunwolves up front to help them regain the ascendancy. First, eighthman Jack Dempsey powered over from close range before the referee punished the Sunwolves for repeated infringements by awarding a penalty try to the visitors.
Up 31-23 and with a one-man advantage after the Sunwolves had conceded a yellow card, you’d have expected the Waratahs to see out the game with ease. But in a remarkable finish, the Sunwolves almost snatched victory. Van den Heever went on a strong run, and stood up to Folau along the way to grab his second try. Parker converted to cut the deficit to a single point.
#SuperRugby – RESULT:
Sunwolves 30-31 Waratahs
It was a spirited performance from the hosts, but it’s the Waratahs who pick up their first win of the season after a close game in Tokyo. pic.twitter.com/Jc6ftibSun
— SuperSport (@SuperSportTV) February 23, 2019
The Sunwolves pressed hard in the closing minutes, and though the Waratahs made a crucial turnover, a poor clearance afforded the hosts an attacking lineout inside the 22. They recycled possession and worked the ball in-field before Parker lined up a drop goal. It was just wide, but the Sunwolves won possession in the air and carried the ball over the tryline. But luck favoured the Waratahs once more as the Sunwolves chaser was deemed to be in front of Parker before the attempted drop kick. And with that relieving penalty, the Waratahs escaped with the victory.
Sunwolves – Tries: Gerhard van den Heever (2), Tom Rowe. Conversions: Hayden Parker (3). Penalties: Parker (3).
Waratahs – Tries: Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau (2), Jack Dempsey, penalty try. Conversions: Bernard Foley (2).
Sunwolves – 15 Jason Emery, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Shane Gates, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 7 Ed Quirk, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Tom Rowe, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Craig Millar (c).
Subs: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Awe Helu, 20 James Moore, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Michael Little, 23 Rikiya Matsuda .
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Karmichael Hunt, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes.`
Subs: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Lachlan Swinton, 20 Will Miller, 21 Mitch Short, 22 Mack Mason, 23 Cam Clark/Adam Ashley-Cooper.
Photo: Atsushi TomuraGetty Images