CANBERRA – Without two of their best players in the first half, the Sunwolves lack of depth was glaringly obvious in a 66-5 Super Rugby beating at the hands of the Brumbies on Saturday.
Lacking the intensity and creative spark of first-choice fly-half Tusi Pisi and back Riaan Viljoen, who began the game on the bench, the Sunwolves looked lost from the word go.
The Brumbies dominated the early proceedings, keeping the Sunwolves pinned back in their own half and applying so much pressure that the visitors rarely had a chance to do anything with the ball but kick it away.
“We need everyone on the team to be able to grasp what we are trying to do on attack,” Sunwolves captain Shota Horie said. “If we can keep the ball, more spaces will open up.”
Although the Sunwolves defended well in the first minutes, their shape quickly deteriorated. A handling error gave the hosts the ball at midfield and after a two incisive phases, a long pass from fullback Aidan Toua found Scott Fardy out wide in space in the 12th minute.
The flanker, who was on the front lines in eastern Japan after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami as a member of the Kamaishi Seawaves, went over in the 11th minute for the game’s first score.
Center Stephen Moore made it 12-0 in the 17th minute after a lineout and an artfully worked maul. In the 22nd minute, flyhalf Michael Dowsett was already at speed when he received a pass and slashed through the disorganized defense for an embarrassingly easy try.
Sunwolves danger man Akihito Yamada was threatening the try line, but careless ball handling ended the scoring threat. Center Nigel Ah Wong, who played one Top League season for Coca-Cola Red Sparks, responded with a punishing run for the Brumbies’ fourth try and the first of his two.
Christian Lealiifano, who will join Wong in the Top League this season with Suntory Sungoliath, kicked his fourth conversion to send the hosts into the break leading 28-0.
Two minutes into the second half and with 38-year-old Hitoshi Ono in the sin-bin, Lealiifano set up Moore’s second try with a breathtaking run and kicked his fifth conversion. Toua crossed the whitewash in the 54th minute and Jordan Jackson-Hope scored his team’s seventh try two minutes later.
The introduction of Viljoen in the 43rd minute and Pisi in the 58th saw the Sunwolves regain their trademark flair, resulting in Super Rugby try leader Yamada bagging his team’s only score of the game in the 66th minute.
Try as he might, however, Pisi was soon hobbling, and the rampaging Brumbies ran in three tries, the last an epic team effort that started 75 meters out at the hooter and lasted 2½ minutes before Wong scored and Lealiifano kicked his eighth conversion.