Super Rugby: Sunwolves pay the price for poor second-half
Sunwolves undone by Cheetahs' second-half blitz in Super Rugby's Singapore bow
HITO-COM SUNWOLVES 31
TOYOTA CHEETAHS 32
The sun had already gone down behind the closed dome of the National Stadium, but for a while, out on the pitch, the Hito-Com Sunwolves were shining brightly in its place.
For the first 40 minutes, in what was Super Rugby's Singapore debut, it looked like Mark Hammett's Sunwolves had made themselves at home in Singapore.
They hunted the Toyota Cheetahs in tight packs, pouncing on every opportunity to score, managing four converted tries, and looked like they were about to post their first win of the season.
But, trailing 28-13 at the break, the Cheetahs emerged with a reshuffled forward pack, and fought back sensationally to win 32-31 to deny rookie outfit Sunwolves a win in their second game of the season.
"We made a lot of unforced errors, and that created a lot of opportunities for the Sunwolves, which they capitalised on (in the first half). But it doesn't always help shouting and screaming (during the half-time break), we had a plan and we needed to concentrate on executing that plan," said Cheetahs' coach Franco Smith.
This was the Cheetahs' first victory after failing to find joy in their first two encounters this season.
Captain Francois Venter paid tribute to his teammates who came on in the second period to secure victory, aided by the fact the Sunwolves had to play the final nine minutes with 14 men, after Ed Quirk received a yellow card and was sent to the sin bin.
"The boys who came out in the second half put their hearts out there tonight, and they really made a difference, we've got to give them credit," he said.
"But credit to (the Sunwolves) for their first-half performance, they really put us under pressure, surprised us with a few tricks."
Sunwolves' right winger Akihito Yamada delivered the early blows, scoring a hat-trick of tries to put his side firmly in control. Skipper Shota Horie added another just before the break.
Neither man could manage even a hint of a smile when they addressed the media post-game, however. Both had their gaze firmly fixed below, lips pursed, clearly hurt by the one that got away.
"We started the second half poorly, made errors that we could've fixed earlier. The ball was slippery too, but we could've also (reacted faster) by changing our standing positions," said a disappointed Horie.
Hammett took some positives from the defeat that still earned them one point in the standings, awarded for losing by less than seven points yesterday.
But the loss still hurt.
"Once the disappointment of the loss goes, we will be really happy with a lot of things," said Hammett.
"Scoring four tries is something we can be really proud of, and the way we scored them as well. Some of the bravery we saw out there...was really, really positive.
"But in the final part, we lost the game, and we could've made history."
Smith was impressed by the Sunwolves' performance.
He said: "Their coaching staff have done an exceptional job in a short time in getting them organised.
"I think they're going to be a tough side with a lot of unexpected success in this tournament."
But that - and even his three tries - was scant consolation for Yamada
Yamada said: "We need a win to prove the Sunwolves to the world, so no, we have not done that yet."
The Sunwolves' next game is against the Rebels in Tokyo this Saturday.
Once the disappointment of the loss goes, we will be really happy with a lot of things. Scoring four tries is something we can be really proud of.
— Sunwolves coach Mark Hammett
Fans embrace the Sunwolves
GIVE THEM A HAND: A section of the 8,808-strong crowd at the National Stadium applauding the Sunwolves.
The National Stadium might not have been packed to the rafters last night.
But the 8,808 fans who turned up for a first taste of Super Rugby action in the Republic were treated to a cracking game, with the Toyota Cheetahs coming from behind to beat the Hito-Com Sunwolves 32-31.
All signs point to fans returning for the next two fixtures that the Tokyo-based Sunwolves will play in Singapore, their adopted second home.
Japanese fans were screaming from the stands, urging their team to recover from the second-half slump that saw them lose the fixture, which was Super Rugby's Singapore debut.
Among the more vocal ones in the stands were those making their rugby debut as well.
"This is my first time coming to see a rugby game, and yes, I'm here to support the Japanese team," said Japan national Chiho Hashimoto.
"I'm kind of struggling to understand the rules, but despite that it's been fun, the atmosphere is good - with the beer," she added, chuckling.
Singaporean Gideon Luo was equally entertained.
"I'm definitely a rugby fan, and since they're here, I'm supporting the Sunwolves - Asian pride.
"This is my first time catching a Super Rugby game, and I think the promoters have done a great job hyping it up - it's been great," said the 35-year-old.
Indeed, the plaudits also poured in from those on the pitch.
"It's a great stadium and great crowd," said Cheetahs' captain Francois Venter, who led his team to a sensational comeback victory, their first of the season.
"It's a bit difficult to play rugby in this weather, but brilliant people, great city."
- SHAMIR OSMAN
It’s a great stadium and great crowd. It’s a bit difficult to play rugby in this weather, but brilliant people, great city.
— Cheetahs’ captain Francois Venter