Yu Tamura landed a penalty with five minutes remaining as the Sunwolves came from behind to beat the Bulls 21-20 on Saturday to claim their first win of the Super Rugby season.
The Sunwolves, who went into the match at Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground having lost their opening five games, led South Africa’s Bulls 11-10 at halftime but fell behind after the restart and trailed by nine points with 10 minutes left.
But flyhalf Tamura, who replaced Hayden Cripps at halftime, sparked the revival by setting up Takaaki Nakazuru for a try in the 70th minute, then kicked the decisive penalty to give the Sunwolves the victory — matching their win total from last season.
“Playing rugby makes me happy, so I enjoyed it,” said Tamura, who was making his first appearance of the season. “With the kick at the end, I knew I had to make it otherwise we would be in a bad situation. I’m happy that we got the win, and we’ll be trying to get more.”
The Sunwolves have made a bad habit of falling apart late in games this season, and history seemed set to repeat itself when Travis Ismaiel scored a try to put the Bulls 20-11 ahead with 16 minutes left to play.
But head coach Filo Tiatia was confident that his players had learned from their mistakes, and the New Zealander was happy to finally savor his first win since taking over at the start of the season.
“The team has been working really hard since we assembled in late January, and to see the growth from the start to where we are at the moment, we’re really happy,” said Tiatia.
“We reviewed our games so far and we noticed trends that the last 20 minutes or so we give points away. Today we saw players come on and they contributed really well. All 23 players got on the field today and they all contributed really positively.”
Cripps missed an easy chance to open the scoring when he kicked a penalty wide in the fifth minute, but the home side eventually took the lead two minutes later when debutant Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco streaked through the Bulls defense to touch down in the corner.
“The young kid debuted today and he’s only 21 years old, so to get his first touch and score the try was no mean feat to hand off some pretty big Bulls defenders,” said Tiatia.
Cripps hit the target with his next penalty to stretch the Sunwolves’ lead to eight points, but Bulls center Burger Odendaal brought the visitors back into the game when he broke through three tackles to touch down in the 13th minute.
A penalty for both teams then took the Sunwolves into halftime with a precarious one-point lead, but that evaporated when Tian Schoeman kicked the Bulls ahead early in the second half.
Bulls winger Ismaiel then took victory further away from the Sunwolves’ grasp when he scored in the corner in the 64th minute, but Nakazuru brought the home team right back into contention six minutes later, taking a pass from Tamura and sprinting over the line.
Tamura’s boot then reclaimed the lead for the Sunwolves with five minutes remaining, and a crucial penalty miss by Francois Brummer in the 77th minute sealed the win for the home team.
“We’re going to be traveling straight after this game in a couple of hours after we catch up with family,” said Tiatia, who next takes his team to New Zealand to face the Crusaders on Friday. “This team travels all over the world and we don’t spend much time with family, but every time we’re at home, we really cherish the moments that we play at Chichibunomiya.
“The fans are amazing. You can still hear them outside cheering and yahooing, and that’s an inspiration for us as well. They certainly lifted us today, particularly in the second half.”