An undisciplined performance by the Sunwolves saw them fail in their bid to make it two straight wins in New Zealand on Saturday as the Japanese Super Rugby franchise fell 28-20 to the Blues at QBE Stadium in Albany, north of Auckland.
Without the forward domination of last week — when they beat the Chiefs 30-15 in Hamilton — the Sunwolves gave away far too many penalties (14 to 3 by the Blues) and committed a number of handling errors to hand the hosts their first victory of the season.
“We tried to play our game but credit to the Blues,” said Sunwolves captain Michael Little, whose side fell to one win and three losses for the season.
Down to 14 men on two occasions in the second half, the Sunwolves, who take on the Queensland Reds next week in Tokyo, battled hard but created few clear-cut opportunities for their dangerous backs.
“Yellow cards kill any team but we need to move on and get back on the horse,” Little said.
The Blues, meanwhile, made the most of the possession that came their way with All Blacks wing Rieko Ioane taking full advantage to score all four of his team’s tries.
“We had to work hard for the meat pies (tries) and Rieko was a bit full at the end,” said Blues captain Sonny Bill Williams.
Both teams took to the field full of emotion with the Blues still trying to get to grips with the sudden death last week of prop Mike Tamoaieta and the Sunwolves knowing their very existence will be at the center of a SANZAAR meeting in London on Sunday.
It was the visitors who got the scoreboard ticking over in the fourth minute thanks to a penalty from Rikiya Matsuda. And with scrumhalf Jamie Booth looking dangerous, Matsuda extended the lead with a second penalty eight minutes later.
However, poor discipline from the Sunwolves allowed the Blues back into the game with Harry Plummer kicking a penalty in the 16th minute before Ioane finished off some good work from his forwards at the set piece five minutes later.
The Sunwolves struck back with Little and Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco combining to put Matsuda away for a try in the 30th minute, with the flyhalf adding the extras to his own try to make it 13-8.
But the lead did not last long as Ioane took a pass from older brother Akira to cross for his second try to give the Blues a 15-13 lead at the break.
Sunwolves assistant coach Naoya Okuba said at halftime his side needed to play quicker tempo rugby in the second half and be more competitive at the set piece.
But with the Sunwolves continuing to incur the wrath of referee Mike Fraser, the Blues started the second stanza as they finished the first with Ioane crossing for his third and fourth tries.
The Sunwolves needed a score to get back into the game and Uwe Helu crossed in the 62nd minute, despite the Sunwolves being a man down following a yellow card to Semisi Masirewa, to close the gap to five points at 25-20.
But further indiscipline — with hooker Nathan Vella also sent to the naughty chair — ensured the visitors were unable to pull off a second-straight win. A 75th-minute penalty from Otere Black rubbed salt into the Sunwolves’ wounds, sending them back to Japan without a bonus point for losing by seven or less points.
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