INVERCARGILL, NEW ZEALAND – The Sunwolves showed their depth of resilience and fight, but ultimately came up short yet again as the Highlanders handed them their seventh loss of the Super Rugby season in Invercargill on Saturday.
Tokyo’s team crossed the line four times, but errors and line-ball refereeing decisions meant they booked just two tries, which was never going to be enough against the powerhouse New Zealand team. The Highlanders scored six in the 40-15 bonus-point win.
Handling errors at high-pressure moments, especially in the first half, kept the Sunwolves from to capitalizing on plenty of possession in dangerous areas deep in opposition territory.
The match started in a familiar fashion for the Sunwolves, as the Highlanders’ Malakai Fekitoa notched a five-pointer after just three minutes.
The visitors were able to immediately respond with what looked like a try of their own just two minutes later, only for the referee to rule William Tupou was inadvertently offside when he collected the ball before going over.
After piling pressure on the Highlanders, the Sunwolves were unlucky to give up a try going the other way after 34 minutes, and can feel doubly aggrieved as the pass that put try-scorer Liam Squire in space could very easily have been ruled forward.
With the score at 14-3 and halftime beckoning, the Sunwolves gave up a soft try to scrumhalf Aaron Smith, and after the conversion, the deficit had grown to 18 points.
Three more Highlanders’ tries in the first 13 minutes after the break left the Sunwolves staring down a 40-3 scoreline, but Willie Britz and substitute Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco were not going to let the game get any further away.
Britz converted some sustained Sunwolves pressure by breaking a tackle to cross before Warren-Vosayaco, who showed some flashes of pace and power in just his third Super Rugby match, converted in the corner to allow the Japanese team to finish the game on a positive note.
The Highlanders’ win is their fifth from eight on the season, but they remain in the lower half of the high-quality New Zealand conference. The Sunwolves, still looking for their second win, unsurprisingly remain rooted to the bottom of their division with five points from their eight matches.