The Sunwolves failed to pick up their second win of the Super Rugby season on Saturday after a 47-7 defeat to South Africa’s Cheetahs.
The Sunwolves returned to Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground for their first match in Tokyo since beating the Bulls 21-20 at the same stadium on April 8, but two first-half tries and another immediately after the interval put the Cheetahs in full control.
Sam Wykes gave the Sunwolves hope with a reply in the 48th minute, but four further tries for the visitors killed off the home side’s challenge and left Japan’s struggling franchise with just three games left to improve on last season’s record of one win and one draw.
“In the first half it was 7-0 with about 32 minutes gone, and if you watch that period of play, it could have swung either way,” said Sunwolves head coach Filo Tiatia. “Both teams were quite fragile. If we had taken our opportunities it would have been a different story. But it wasn’t.
“Obviously we want to keep improving, and in the last two games there’s a trend coming through of conceding points where we need to concentrate. That’s certainly one area that we will try to rectify.”
The Sunwolves’ season now shuts down for the June international break, forcing the team to wait until its July 2 game against the Lions in Johannesburg to try to set the record straight.
“We just need to keep improving,” said Tiatia. “When you play at this level, when you play at this intensity, we just need to keep doing it and keep getting better. That’s what we want to do. Nothing changes.”
The Sunwolves defense managed to deal with the Cheetahs’ early pressure, but fell behind when Uzair Cassiem slipped past Wykes to open the scoring in the 17th minute.
The home side continued to hold its own, and was unlucky when Fumiaki Tanaka was penalized for a foul at a scrum in a promising position, then again when the bounce of the ball deceived winger Takaaki Nakazuru at the try line.
But the Sunwolves’ task became more difficult when Cheetahs substitute Niell Jordaan beat Shota Emi to touch down in the corner with the final attack of the first half, and Daniel Marais added the conversion to give the visitors a 14-0 halftime lead.
“If you switch off for a second in Super Rugby, your opponent will punish you,” said Sunwolves captain Harumichi Tatekawa.
Marais then dug the Sunwolves into an even deeper hole when he scored a try just one minute after the restart, but Wykes raised hopes when he burst through the Cheetahs defense to pull one back six minutes later.
The Sunwolves then had a try disallowed after Yu Tamura was ruled to have made a forward pass to send Emi over the line, and the Cheetahs stopped the revival in its tracks when Cassiem scored his second of the game with just over 10 minutes remaining.
“After my try we thought, ‘we’re going to come back here.’ ” said Wykes. “But we didn’t really get to build too much momentum from that. We let them off the hook too easy in those moments that can change the game.
“When it wasn’t happening, the belief grew for the Cheetahs and they got the bounce of the ball a few times and ran away with a couple of tries.”
Torsten van Jaarsveld, Tian Meyer and Sergeal Petersen added further tries to run up the score for the visitors, who, like the Sunwolves, have already been eliminated from playoff contention.
“It was a very tough competition out there, especially in the first half,” said Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith. “The defense of the Sunwolves was exceptional. We dominated territory and possession in the first half enormously and they managed to keep us out.
“Fortunately, in the second half one or two things went our way. But the result out there was not the true reflection of the quality of the side we played today.”
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