The Sunwolves found out once again on Saturday that if you cannot finish what you start in Super Rugby, you get punished.
Filo Tiatia’s team created more than enough opportunities to beat the Southern Kings at Singapore National Stadium, but an inability to turn pressure into points cost them dearly as they went down 37-23.
“We got ourselves in a good position to score points and it’s disappointing we couldn’t do that. The reality is we need to get better,” Tiatia said.
“If we had taken those opportunities, the score and momentum might have swung our way. But looking back with hindsight is a beautiful thing. The reality is we lost.”
The stats show the Sunwolves enjoyed 53 percent possession and made 708 meters to the Kings’ 516. But they also show the visitors outscored the hosts four tries to three and made seven out of seven kicks at goal compared with three from seven for the Sunwolves.
“I have to applaud the effort of Lionel Cronje,” Kings coach Deon Davids said of his flyhalf, who has yet to miss a kick at goal this season.
“You need a flyhalf who can take control, understand the flow of the game, win the territory battle and convert points. He kept a cool head and guided the guys around him and made sure they did not panic.”
Cronje had to do it for most of the game with reserve flyhalf Pieter-Steyn de Wet filling in at scrumhalf, after Louis Schreuder and Rudi van Rooyen were both injured in the first half.
“Some of the passes to our 10 got a little slower in the second half, but de Wet did really well,” said Davids, whose team also lost its main line-out jumper, Mzwanele Zito, in the 29th minute.
The Kings’ ability to overcome adversity was also helped by some generosity from the Sunwolves, with the visitors winning 11 turnovers to the hosts’ four, thanks mainly to the South Africans’ ability to get numbers to the breakdown and dominate the tackle area, and the Sunwolves’ inability to hold onto the ball.
While the humidity didn’t help — though both sides had to battle with the conditions and a slippery ball — Tiatia admitted giving up the ball so much was an area of particular concern.
“We need to be more clinical and maintain possession,” he said.
As in the first week, the Sunwolves’ lack of physical presence on the wing was also exploited with Andisa Ntsila’s power and Malcolm Jaer’s pace causing a number of problems for Takaaki Nakazuru, who missed a team-high four tackles.
“When the defensive system works, we are a very good defensive side. The problem is individual errors,” said Tiatia.
On the bright side, Jamie-Jerry Taulagi impressed in his game for the Sunwolves and provided some X-factor that the Sunwolves badly need as they go in search of that elusive first win of the season.
“He looked really sharp and had some special moments,” Tiatia said of the 23-year-old, who only joined the squad on Tuesday.
The back-row forwards battled hard throughout with Shuhei Matsuhashi also having a good debut when he came off the bench in the 58th minute.
But as Tiatia and captain Ed Quirk know, things do not get any easier.
The Sunwolves left for South Africa just a few hours after the final whistle for two games at altitude against the Cheetahs and Bulls before returning to Singapore to play the Stormers on March 25.
With calls for the side to be one of those culled if Super Rugby does reduce the number of teams in the competition, the team knows the pressure is well and truly on.
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