HONG KONG – Sunwolves super boot Hayden Parker nailed a drop goal with the last kick of the game Saturday to upset the Stormers 26-23 and secure back-to-back Super Rugby victories for the first time in the Japanese franchise’s history.
The New Zealand-born No. 10 also scored a try and was 5-from -5 on penalties and conversions. It was another brilliant performance following his match-winning effort in the Sunwolves’ 63-28 win over the Queensland Reds at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground last week.
As the Sunwolves (2-9) made a final desperate drive into enemy territory after the final hooter, Parker calmly gathered the ball and slotted the goal with his non-kicking foot from 30 meters out.
“The whole time I was planning on going off my left (foot), but someone was coming up on that side so I had to go to the right,” the 27-year-old Parker said. “I didn’t hit it very well but I’ll take it.”
The Cape Town-based Stormers (5-8) came into the match chasing a win that could catapult them from the bottom of the table to second place in the tightly contested South African conference.
While the “home team” started positively, the South African side opened the scoring in the sixth minute at Mong Kok Stadium against the run of play thanks to an outstanding individual try by Dillyn Leyds.
The winger ran from deep within his own half, dummying and sidestepping past multiple defenders before acrobatically grounding the ball in the corner.
The visitors scored a second try 14 minutes later when J.J. Engelbrecht intercepted a loose pass from No. 8 Willie Britz and cantered across the line after the Sunwolves opted to run the ball out from defensive territory instead of kicking ahead.
The Sunwolves struck back almost instantly, however, attacking from a well-executed lineout. Reacting quickly following a tackle, halfback Fumiaki Tanaka ran through a gap in the Stormers’ line and chipped ahead. The ball took a fortuitous bounce off an opponent, eventually finding its way to Parker, who scored directly under the posts.
With both teams opting to kick for position in the 29 C heat, the Stormers extended their lead thanks to another piece of individual brilliance from Leyds, who chased down and grounded a ball that looked certain to bounce across the dead ball line.
A penalty from Parker just before halftime ensured the Sunwolves went into the break down only a converted try.
With the weather taking its toll, the Sunwolves turned up the pressure after the break, pinning the Stormers inside their 22-yard line and repeatedly forcing them to kick for safety.
The pressure paid off in the 57th minute, when the Sunwolves showed the Hong Kong crowd some sparkling attacking rugby, stringing together a succession of phases that culminated in a try beneath the posts to Grant Hattingh.
Running inside the Stormers’ 22, Parker threw a cut-out pass to Kotaro Matsushima near the right sideline. The fullback immediately turned the ball back inside to Michael Leitch, who threw a perfect pop pass to the onrushing Hattingh, who blasted straight through a gap in the defensive line.
Parker added the extras to tie it at 17-17, and when the Sunwolves won a penalty less than 10 minutes later, he kicked true once again to give the Japan-based side its first lead.
Two penalties from the boot of SP Marais, including an incredible effort from beyond halfway, saw the visitors take a 23-20 lead with seven minutes remaining to set up the thrilling finish.
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