Sunwolves rout Reds for first win of season

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

The Sunwolves picked up their first win of the Super Rugby season in barnstorming style with a 63-28 demolition of the Reds on Saturday.

Fly-half Hayden Parker was perfect from seven penalty and five conversion attempts as the Sunwolves dominated their Australian opponents in their last game in Tokyo this season, making light of their 0-9 record heading into the match at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.

Hosea Saumaki scored a hat trick of tries and Grant Hattingh and Parker also crossed the line to go with a penalty try for the Sunwolves, who scored the most points by any team in a Super Rugby game this season.

The Sunwolves now have six matches to try to improve on their current franchise record of two wins for a season, starting with the first of two “home” games in Asia against the Stormers in Hong Kong on May 18.

“For me, as the coach of the team, it wasn’t a surprise,” said Sunwolves head coach Jamie Joseph, whose team also has a designated home game in Singapore still to come. “We work very hard. Our game has been improving but also there is the caliber of the opposition. We just hadn’t been able to get over the line and score a win.

“When a team is losing, the players’ confidence is dented. But the ability of our players to get up every Sunday morning and look at the game and then work towards a way to win has been outstanding. We have a team of leaders and without that you just can’t improve.”

Joseph described Parker’s performance as “world class” after the fly half slotted every kick that came his way, keeping the Sunwolves in contention early in the game when the Reds threatened to cut loose.

“Today the weather was perfect out there for kicking and the field was perfect,” Parker said. “That all helps when it comes to kicking well. It makes a big difference.

“We’ve been in New Zealand for the past few weeks playing against good teams. We learned a lot from being there and we were pretty motivated coming back here for our last game of the season at Chichibu. We really wanted to put on a performance.”

Parker kicked the Sunwolves into an early 6-0 lead but that disappeared in the 10th minute when the Reds scored a try through Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Jono Lance kicked the conversion.

Parker edged the Sunwolves back in front with another penalty, but the home side was again outmuscled at its own line and scrum half Ben Lucas took advantage to score the Reds’ second try in the 21st minute.

“There were some earned tries from the Reds and there were some soft tries,” said Joseph. “One thing we need to eradicate from our game is the soft moments that we are having.”

Parker’s steady boot kept the Sunwolves within touching distance, however, and Hattingh notched the home team’s first try when he took a pass from Craig Millar and barrelled over the line in the 30th minute.

The Sunwolves then turned on the flair to score their second as Kazuki Himeno and Michael Little scorched past the Reds’ defense to set up Parker to cross the line three minutes later.

Parker added another penalty to send the Sunwolves into halftime with a 29-14 advantage, before Saumaki put the home side in an even stronger position when he went streaking down the line to score in the corner. “We just stuck to the game plan,” said Saumaki. “If you have an opportunity with space on one side, then move the ball. Everyone just did their job.”

Angus Scott-Young pulled a try back for the Reds but the Sunwolves replied when referee Egon Seconds awarded a penalty try after Duncan Paia’aua had fouled Jason Emery on his way to the line in the 69th minute.

Filipo Daugunu then scored again for the Reds before Saumaki grabbed two more, pushing the Sunwolves past the 60-point barrier — the first time any team in Super Rugby has done so this season.

“I’m so happy to win in front of our fans,” said Sunwolves captain Yutaka Nagare. “They have stuck with us through the hard times and they gave us power today.

“In previous games we just haven’t been able to take the last step and get the win, but we were able to put it all together today. We kept looking to score more tries right until the end and that cushion stopped things from getting too dangerous for us.”