BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – The Panasonic Wild Knights’ run at the Brisbane Global Rugby Tens came to an end in the quarterfinals Sunday with a 12-7 loss to the Crusaders, who went on to finish second.
On another sweltering day at Suncorp Stadium, the Wild Knights found out — a day after beating two Australian sides — that playing New Zealand teams was a lot harder, a lesson the Sunwolves will need to take heed of for the upcoming Super Rugby competition.
Nonetheless head coach Robbie Deans was happy with the way the team played.
“They did themselves proud,” he said. “It was a little frustrating in the last one that we couldn’t get any momentum. But the experience will be great for them. It will broaden them and make them tougher.”
The Wild Knights finished second in Pool A after opening the day with a 33-5 loss to the Chiefs.
Already assured of a spot in the quarterfinals after an earlier result went their way, and with the temperature at 34 Celsius in the shade at 9 a.m., Deans opted to rest a number of his star players against a team that needed to win to advance.
The Chiefs were also playing on emotions following the overnight death of former teammate Sione Lauaki at the age of 35.
Playing in memory of the former Chiefs and All Blacks back-row forward, Dave Rennie’s team then went on to beat hosts the Reds 12-10 in the quarterfinals, the Bulls of South Africa 26-14 in the semifinals before defeating the Crusaders 12-5 in a pulsating final.
“We lost a brother today,” said Shaun Stevenson, who was named tournament MVP.
Taleni Seu, Tim Nanai Williams (who spent two seasons with Ricoh Black Rams), Brad Weber, Luke Jacobson and Solomon Alaimalo all touched down for the Chiefs, with Ryota Hasegawa getting a consolation effort for the Wild Knights.
That set up a quarterfinal clash with the team that Deans led to five Super Rugby titles before moving to Australia to coach the Wallabies and eventually coach in Japan.
Two early tries from George Bridge and Seta Tamanivalu saw the Crusaders, coached by former Ricoh No. 8 Scott Robertson, out of the blocks quickest.
Their stubborn defense did the rest, as the Crusaders withstood some intense pressure from the Wild Knights with Takuya Yamasawa and Yuta Takagi both going close.
Daniel Heenan eventually crossed the chalk with Berrick Barnes adding the extras but it was too little too late.
“I don’t think there was anything in it. It could have gone either way,” said Deans. “I think we’ve shown, if people weren’t convinced, that Japanese rugby is more than competitive.”
The Australian fans certainly thought so.
“In one day the Panasonic Wild Knights have shown the world what Japanese rugby is all about,” said Peter Gibson from Sydney. “No matter what today’s outcome is they have done themselves and their country very proud. Japanese rugby is the talk of the town here.”