Sunwolves' brave display not enough in 17-17 draw
Coach Hammett rues letting lead slip as Sunwolves put on brave display
They were widely expected to be easy prey, but Super Rugby rookie side Hito-Com Sunwolves turned into the hunters in their final "home" game at the National Stadium yesterday.
With less than a minute to go, the Japanese outfit were leading conference leaders the DHL Stormers 17-10.
But they were denied by an 80th-minute try-and-conversion by Stormers substitutes Vincent Koch and Brandon Thomson respectively.
In the end, the Sunwolves had to settle for a 17-17 stalemate with the South African side, even though they were in the driver's seat to register only their second win of the season.
This is not the first time that the hosts have been pegged back - they let an 18-point lead slip before losing 32-31 to the Cheetahs at the National Stadium two months ago.
Sunwolves coach Mark Hammett admitted that it was disappointing not to close out the game.
"It's certainly frustrating as we were having the ball close to full-time but, if we stopped the game at the 79th-minute mark, we would have been hugely proud of the effort," he said.
"I've said before that defence takes time to put into place, and we're at a stage now where we've been able to add dynamics around the double tackle and the urgency to get out.
"I thought we were the better team, but take nothing away from their performance - we know that this competition is bloody tough."
The Stormers signalled their intent early on through a third-minute Jean-Luc Du Plessis penalty, but the Sunwolves levelled the score with a penalty of their own two minutes later.
Hammett's men then thrilled the home crowd when they took the lead with a try in the 11th minute.
A hopeful punt upfield was not dealt with by the Stormers, allowing Sunwolves winger Akihito Yamada to pounce on the ball before releasing a pass to an onrushing teammate.
The visitors managed to plug the leak deep in their own half, but the Sunwolves regained possession and Yamada - the league's leading try-scorer - squeezed the ball over the line to open up a five-point lead.
Although teammate Tusi Pisi failed to convert the try, the Samoan flyhalf scored two penalties before the break as the hosts took a 14-3 half-time lead.
Not long after the restart, Yamada seemed to have piled on the misery for the visitors by grabbing his ninth try of the season.
But having awarded the try, referee Paul Williams overturned his decision after ruling that the Japanese had played the ball on the ground, amid loud boos from the home crowd.
Boosted by the call, the Stormers started their comeback in the 59th minute when a Pieter-Steph Du Toit try and Du Plessis' conversion closed the gap to 17-10.
There was further heartbreak for the Sunwolves with less than a minute to go, as Koch and Thomson levelled the score to prevent an upset.
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said: "We certainly don't deserve the two points. Our execution was poor and some tough words were said at half-time, but we showed a lot of character to come back.
"Credit to the Sunwolves. I thought they played really well. They had a lot of energy, put in a lot of attitude in the tackle and put us on a lot of pressure with their line speed."
The Stormers still lead the South African group with 31 points after 10 games, while the Sunwolves remain seventh with nine points.