JOHANNESBURG, March 17 (ANA) – The Sunwolves came within three points of providing one of the biggest shocks in Super Rugby history when they went down 40-38 to the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday.
The Japanese team were leading 10 minutes from time having played innovative and enterprising rugby, but ultimately fell just short.
It was a dream start for the Sunwolves when they earned a penalty in front of the Lions’ posts almost from the kick-off, with William Tupou kicking the three points.
In response the Lions attacked for close to 10 minutes before Andries Coetzee was put into space for his team’s opening try, converted by Elton Jantjies.
It took another 10 minutes of defending from the Sunwolves before they conceded a try from a set scrum on their line, with Lourens Erasmus claiming the grounding.
But the visitors were not going to roll over and former Cheetahs flank Lappies Labuschagne charged for the line and cleverly offloaded to fullback Kotaro Matsushima, who took the ball at full pace and crashed over. The conversion made it 14-10 to the Lions.
Almost immediately, the Lions had a lineout deep in the Sunwolves’ 22, and Malcolm Marx scored from the lineout drive. They had barely stopped celebrating when Sunwolves loosehead prop Craig Millar scored after snatching a grubber through the defence to score in the corner.
The exceptional Tupou conversion made it 19-17 to the home team with five minutes to the break.
The Lions had the perfect start to the second half when Sunwolves flyhalf Harumichi Tatekawa’s clearance after the kick-off was charged down by wing Aphiwe Dyantyi who pounced on the ball and ran in the try. Jantjies nailed the conversion.
Again the visitors showed they were not going to cave in and minutes later wing Hosea Saumaki scored a spectacular try, bouncing off defenders in a sprint down the touchline for a try converted by Tupou. That made it 26-24 to the Lions.
Sensationally, the visitors then took the lead when lock Kazuki Himeno intercepted and ran 40m for a try. The conversion gave the Sunwolves a 31-26 lead at the three-quarter mark.
Their lead was short-lived though. Former Lions and Cheetahs flank Willie Britz tackled Lionel Mapoe around the neck, the penalty was kicked to the corner and Marx routinely scored off the lineout drive.
The Lions’ lead became a touch more comfortable when wing Rohan Janse van Rensburg scored and the conversion meant the visitors were nine points behind with seven minutes remaining.
Fittingly, the brave Japanese team had the final say with a try for Atsushi Sakate after a kick-up field from the Lions’ 22 was chased down by Willie Britz.
Lions 40 (19) – Tries: Andries Coetzee, Marvin Orie, Malcolm Marx (2), Aphiwe Dyantyi, Rohan Janse van Rensburg. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (5).
Sunwolves 38 (17) – Tries: Kotaro Matsushima, Craig Millar, Hosea Saumaki, Kazuki Himeno, Atsushi Sakate. Conversions: William Tupou (3), Ryoto Nakamura (2). Penalty: William Tupou.