The Sunwolves found out again Saturday that you cannot win a Super Rugby contest if you do not make your tackles and turn pressure into points, going down 50-22 against the Sharks at Kings Park in Durban, South Africa.
While more injuries did not help their cause, the difference in intensity between the Top League and Super Rugby — in attack and defense — left the Sunwolves cruelly exposed.
The Sunwolves had 56 percent of possession and carried the ball 489 meters, compared with the Sharks’ 493, but lacked the killer instinct of the South African side and left a number of points on the field.
They were also far too generous when the hosts had the ball, with the defense stats showing Jamie Joseph’s side had a tackle success rate of 80.9 percent compared with 86.4 percent for the Sharks, who recorded their first win of the season.
“We ran out of shape and lost a lot of ball unnecessarily,” said Sunwolves captain Willie Britz. “We got held up a lot and didn’t get over the gain line. So credit the Sharks for stopping our momentum.”
Makazole Mapimpi showed the visitors how to finish, bagging a brace of five-pointers and there were further tries for Armand van der Merwe, Lubabalo Mtembu, Jacques Vermeulen, Sibusiso Nkosi and Cameron Wright.
Robert du Preez kicked five conversions and a penalty goal for the Sharks and Curwin Bosch kicked the final conversion to get the team to 50 points after the hosts had led 24-3 at the break.
Lomano Lava Lemeki, Wimpie van der Walt and William Tupou crossed the chalk for the Sunwolves, with Harumichi Tatekawa kicking a penalty and Kotaro Matsushima and Ryoto Nakamura adding a conversion apiece.
Michael Little had a good game in his Sunwolves debut, making a team-high 94 meters with the ball. The son of former All Black Walter Little also made nine tackles, missed just one and won two turnovers.
But like his teammates, the 24-year-old, who plies his trade in the second tier Top Challenge League with Mitsubishi Dynaboars, at times seemed a little flustered by the pace of the game.
Five of the Sunwolves missed more tackles than they made and things do not get any easier for Joseph and his team next week as they head to Johannesburg to play the Lions
The Lions will go into that match looking to rebound from their 38-35 loss to the Blues.
The Blues looked to be heading for a third straight defeat during the match in Johannesburg, trailing the 2016 and 2017 competition runners-up 28-10 after 60 minutes.
But the Auckland-based side scored four tries and outscored the Lions 28-7 over the final 18 minutes, capped by replacement flanker Murphy Taramai’s last-minute go-ahead try. The Blues had won just one of their previous 10 matches in South Africa.
In other matches, The Hurricanes overcame an exhausting travel schedule to beat the defending champion Crusaders 29-19.
Queensland Reds rallied from a 14-10 halftime deficit to beat South Africa’s Bulls 20-14, and the Jaguares emphatically won their first match of the season, jumping out to a 33-7 lead at halftime and holding on to defeat New South Wales Waratahs 38-28.