KITAKYUSHU – The Sunwolves may have beaten the Top League All-Stars 24-12 on Saturday but it was hardly a performance that would have caused any real concern for the 17 other Super Rugby sides.
Filo Tiatia’s team looked like it was still in hibernation for long periods of the game as it missed tackles and struggled badly with its own line-outs.
A try from new recruit Fumiaki Tanaka six minutes from time eventually sealed the win, but with just seven days to go before the Sunwolves take on the defending champion Hurricanes from New Zealand, there is a lot that needs to be worked on.
“The All-Stars put us under pressure and we learned some lessons,” admitted Tiatia. “At line-out time we were under pressure and we need a stable set piece, both at scrums and line-outs, in order to launch (our attack). At the tackle we were also turned over without support.”
The game played in front of 11,577 at the brand new Mikuni World Stadium was dubbed the “Dream Match” by organizers.
But it failed to live up to its billing as both sides made far too many errors.
Some of that could be put down to their familiarity with one another, however, with nine Sunwolves on the All-Stars side. And both coaches said they were generally — a few injuries aside — pleased with how things went.
“There was some good attacking rugby and both sides looked to move the ball,” said All-Stars coach Jamie Joseph. “We identified a few areas and helped the Sunwolves prepare for next week.”
The Sunwolves have the shortest preseason of any of the Super Rugby sides and with just 15 days preparation Tiatia said he was “happy with the result and glad we are on the horse and ready to go.”
The tone for the afternoon was set early on with the Sunwolves opting to kick for goal with two early penalties, one of which went over for Hayden Cripps.
But with Shota Horie struggling to find his men at the line-out, the Sunwolves failed to get any rhythm, and it was the All-Stars who scored the first two tries at the impressive seaside arena.
Local hero Akihito Yamada bagged the first thanks to a good long pass from Hikaru Tamura and Andre Taylor the second after he intercepted an all-too obvious pass from Kaito Shigeno.
That was the last time the All-Stars bothered the scoreboard operator though, as the Sunwolves defense started to get more organized and it was the Super Rugby side that went into the break in front.
Timothy Lafaele — one of the few Sunwolves to stand out — crossed after some good work from Takaaki Nakazuru before a simple 8-9 move from a scrum five meters out in the 36th minute saw captain Ed Quirk go over as Tiatia’s team made it 17-12 at the break.
Joseph had said on the eve of the game there would be no “funsies” and that was certainly the case with players almost coming to blows on a number of occasions.
The second half saw both teams go close on occasions, but the only score came when Tanaka scampered over after the Sunwolves had reacted quickest to a penalty kick that had hit the post to stay camped in the All-Star 22.
“The Sunwolves looked very different when they brought on experienced players such as Harumichi (Tatekawa) and Fumiaki (Tanaka) and their leadership was exactly what the team needed,” Joseph said.
“Filo wanted to test a few combinations and it would have been a different result if the Sunwolves had started with their best team.”