DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA – The Sunwolves’ inaugural Super Rugby season came to a close Friday with a 40-29 defeat at the hands of the Sharks at Kings Park.
As it have been for much of the season, Mark Hammett’s side — which finished the season with one win, one draw and 13 defeats to its name — was competitive for large periods of the game.
Ed Quirk was once again outstanding in the loose, Riaan Viljoen solid at the back, and Mifiposeti Paea a handful with ball in hand. But the inability of their teammates to play at the intensity needed for the full 80 minutes proved to be the Sunwolves’ undoing, as it has been all year.
“We haven’t scored many tries in our recent games so I was happy with that. But it’s unfortunate we couldn’t get the result we wanted,” said Yu Tamura, who led the Sunwolves in the absence of Shota Horie and Harumichi Tatekawa.
The Sharks needed a win to be assured of a place in the playoffs and they got off to the perfect start with tighthead prop Coenie Oosthuizen rumbling over and wing Lwazi Mvovo crossing the chalk at a much faster rate of knots as they scored two tries — both converted by Garth April — in the opening six minutes.
The Sunwolves hit back in the 14th minute when Kaito Shigeno scored from a well-worked line-out close to the Sharks’ line, Tamura adding the extras.
But former Panasonic Wild Knights favorite J.P. Pietersen restored the 14-point advantage when he finished a move started 85 meters downfield by fullback Rhyno Smith in the 21st minute.
The home fans were perhaps thinking a cricket score was in the cards, but the rest of the half was all Sunwolves as they exposed some flaws in the hosts’ defense.
Paea scored a well-deserved try in the 36th minute, before Fa’atiga Lemalu touched down on the stroke of halftime as the visitors closed to 21-19 at the break.
Just as in the first half, the Sharks came out firing and Andre Esterhuizen increased his side’s lead 90 seconds after the resumption of play.
A penalty from Tamura in the 59th minute closed the gap to six points.
But Pietersen set up April for the Sharks’ fifth try in the 70th minute, before Curwin Bosch followed up a good kick from April to go over six minutes later.
That gave Sharks a bonus point for scoring three more tries than their opponents. But it was only temporary as Paea went over for his second try of the evening as the Sunwolves finished a tough opening season by once again showing what they can do if they are able to keep the ball and put some phases together.
“We are obviously disappointed to not get the bonus point as we pride ourselves on our defense,” said Pietersen, who heads to England at the end of the season to play for Leicester Tigers.
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