Rugby

Sunwolves down Rebels in final season opener

AFP-JIJI, KYODO

The Sunwolves began their farewell season in Super Rugby in blistering fashion Saturday, with flyhalf Garth April orchestrating a 36-27 upset over the visiting Melbourne Rebels.

Keisuke Moriya, Jaba Bregvadze, Tautalatasi Tasi, James Dargaville and April all scored tries in the Fukuoka sunshine, the mercurial April pacing the Tokyo-based side with 16 points, including 5-for-6 with the boot.

The Sunwolves, looking to go out with a bang in their fifth and final year in Super Rugby, came out firing, Moriya darting over after 10 minutes before a driving maul allowed hooker Bregvadze to crash over and leave the Rebels stunned.

Naoya Okubo became the first Japanese head coach to lead the Sunwolves to a win (in his first game in charge) for the franchise’s first season-opening
victory.

The Sunwolves’ mix of youth and experience — led by co-captains Moriya and Jake Schatz — started well and then held on to beat the Rebels.

“For the past four weeks we were just focused on this game and treated it like a test match. And the players were rewarded for their efforts,” said Okubo.

Moriya ensured it was not just a winning Super Rugby debut for him but a try-scoring one, as well.

The 25-year-old center, like Rebels counterpart Dane Haylett-Petty, said ascendency at the breakdown was the key.

“The forwards did a great job today and we were able to utilize the space outside,” said Moriya.

Hooker Anaru Rangu bulldozed through in the 25th minute to bring the visitors back into the game, only for the Sunwolves to hit back through Tasi, who collected a superb floated pass from Moriya to score in the corner.

Dane Haylett-Petty burst through to reduce the deficit to six points, but April slotted a penalty to send the Sunwolves into the break leading 22-13.

The Sunwolves finished 2-14 last year and had won just eight of 61 matches since joining the competition in 2016.