The Sunwolves’ two-game winning streak came to an end on Friday night in a 40-13 loss to the Rebels in Melbourne, Australia.
Missing a number of Japan internationals, who will go into camp on Sunday to prepare for the June tests against Italy and Georgia, a plethora of early handling errors and a disappointing second half ensured the Super Rugby franchise was unable to follow up on their wins in Tokyo and Hong Kong over the Reds and Stormers, respectively.
“It had a little bit of an impact,” Sunwolves stand-in captain Craig Millar said of the missing internationals. “But that’s the nature of rugby. There are no excuses. We had to front up and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Marika Koroibete crossed the chalk three times and Jack Maddocks twice as the Rebels retained the Ganbatte Trophy, the silverware played for between the two clubs to honor the links between Japan and the Melbourne franchise, at AAMI Park
“They are outstanding players,” Rebels captain Adam Coleman said of his two wingers. “The key for us is to get them more ball and let them do their thing.”
A frantic start from both sides saw two tries in the opening five minutes with Lomano Lava Lemeki crossing after good work by his forwards, before the Rebels hit back almost immediately with Koroibete finishing off a good break from Bill Meakes.
Maddocks then put the Rebels ahead in the 16th minute before Japan international Amanaki Lelei Mafi increased the lead for the Australian side four minutes later.
The Sunwolves looked dangerous in attack, but an inability to hold onto the ball made it difficult for them to put the phases together. Their only other scoring in the half came from the boot of Hayden Parker as the teams turned around with the hosts leading 21-13.
The second half started with the Rebels settling down the quickest, and Maddocks opened the scoring with a well-taken try in the 48th minute, though there was more than a hint of a forward pass in the build-up.
A yellow card against Hosea Saumaki in the 63rd minute proved to be the game-changer as the Rebels made the most of their numerical advantage to get the ball wide to Koroibete, who touched down twice in the space of three minutes to seal the bonus-point win.
“They had more momentum throughout the game and we couldn’t stop them in the combat area,” rued Millar.