The Sunwolves kick off the new Super Rugby season on Saturday against the Brumbies in Tokyo with confidence running high ahead of the season’s opener.
JRugbyPodcast caught up with one of their new signings, Hayden Parker, during a gruelling pre-season and asked him whether he was optimistic about the Sunwolves chances this season.
“Absolutely - We are training to play a good brand at the moment and if we can put it out on the park, I think we can put a lot of teams under pressure,” said Parker. “Coming over, I’ve been really impressed with their skills and their decision making under pressure.”
The Sunwolves pulled off the upset of the Super Rugby season on Saturday with a resounding 48-21 victory at Chichibunomiya Stadium in Tokyo. In the sweltering heat, the home side ran in eight tries, kept the Blues scoreless in the second half and put in their most accomplished performance to date.
"We wanted to put the Blues under pressure. They've got an amazing attacking side so we knew that if we wanted to win the game, then we had to put a lot of pressure on them. Our boys stepped up physically and performed amazingly today," said the Sunwolves captain, Willem Britz.
The Blues looked to be cruising in the first half, thanks to tries from James Parsons, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti and Michael Collins.
But the home side stayed within touching distance, reaching half time trailing 21-14 with Timothy Lafaele scoring his first of a hat-trick of tries and then Keisuke Uchida crossing the line just before the interval. The Sunwolves could have even been level if it were not for some last ditch defending from the Blues to deny William Tupou a certain try.
The Sunwolves suffered another heavy defeat on Saturday, losing to the Cheetahs 7 - 47 at Chichibunomiya Stadium in Tokyo.
In a game reminiscent of their recent defeat to the Crusaders, the home side's kicking game was largely to blame, with the Cheetahs much more willing to play with the ball in hand and carve open the Sunwolves.
"It was a tough competition out there, especially in the first half, the Sunwolves' defence was exceptional. We dominated territory and possession enormously and they managed to keep us out," said the Cheetahs' Head Coach Franco Smith. "Fortunately, things went our way in the second half but the end result was not a true reflection of the quality of the side we played against."
The Sunwolves head into a season-defining home match against the Cheetahs this Saturday, with the opportunity to move off the bottom of the table and go one better than last season, by making it two wins this time round.
Just four points separate the two teams going into the weekend’s clash, with the Cheetahs winless since round three of the competition, and recently conceding 17 tries against the Blues and the Hurricanes.
The Sharks showed their ruthless side on Saturday, scoring three tries in the last five minutes to secure a bonus point victory and condemn the Sunwolves to their fifth consecutive defeat.
The Sunwolves had moments of quality throughout the match but were once again let down by handling errors and missed tackles. The Sharks took full advantage of the Sunwolves' shortcomings, by controlling the game with their strong rolling mauls and pick and drives, and ran out comfortable winners, scoring six tries in the process.
Despite the scoreline, Phillip Van Der Walt was impressed with the performance of the Sunwolves. "They always come out running and play with a lot of passion. They ran well with the ball and we had to defend a lot, but also credit to our team - we had good composure at the end to get the bonus point and pull it through," he said.
The Sunwolves return to home soil this Saturday, buoyed by the return of Japanese international captain Harumichi Tatekawa. The inside center has been notably absent so far this season, as he has taken an extended break and also led the Brave Blossoms to another title in the Asia Rugby Championship.
“I am highly motivated to play a Super Rugby match for the first time this year,” said Tatekawa. “There are many outstanding players in our team, so as the captain it is going to be important to lead and guide them in the right direction.”
Things were going so well for the Sunwolves lock, Liaki Moli, with some stand out performances during the opening rounds of the campaign, but two knocks to the head during their first match of the New Zealand tour has led to a lengthy spell on the sidelines due to concussion.
“I was knocked out during the second half (against the Crusaders), but didn’t go off. I heard a lot of the boys telling me to get up and I was kind of in cuckoo land at that point, but knew I had to get back and play because they were only 15 metres out from our try line. I got back up trying to be a hero and then got knocked out again!” says Liaki.
The Sunwolves missed a golden opportunity to get their first away win of the season, letting a 12 point lead slip late on against the Jaguares in Beunos Aires.
The Argentinian team won the high scoring encounter 46 - 39, scoring two late tries, with the Sunwolves once again struggling to turn a good performance into victory.
The Japanese side got off to the best of starts, playing the ball from deep and setting Kenki Fukuoka free down the left channel. William Tupou made the most of Fukuoka's industrious run and crossed the line to put the Sunwolves into an early lead.
The Sunwolves finish their demanding four week tour this weekend against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, with Filo Tiatia making ten changes to the team which took to the field against the Chiefs last weekend.
Timothy Lafaele will captain the side on Saturday, due to Ed Quirk dropping to the bench and Harumichi Tatekawa leading the Japanese national side against Hong Kong. "Tim has played exceptionally well so far of this season and I'm confident with his ability to lead the team," said head coach, Filo Tiatia.
The Sunwolves finished their New Zealand tour on a high on Saturday after picking up a losing bonus point in their 27-20 defeat against the Chiefs.
Head coach Filo Tiatia said before the match that his team are “learning all the time” and the evidence so far on tour is that the Sunwolves are moving in the right direction.
Much like in the other matches against New Zealand opposition this season, the Sunwolves conceded early on, with Hayden Cripps’ poor clearance leading to the Chiefs regaining possession from the kick off. The Sunwolves were unable to withstand the subsequent onslaught, and Hika Elliot was first to cross the try line.