The Sunwolves suffered their fifth straight loss on Saturday, falling 49-14 in a Super Rugby match to the defending champion Crusaders at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.
In a game originally slated for Tokyo’s Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground but moved as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, the Sunwolves (1-5) came into the match on the back of four big losses. They battled to remain within striking distance for much of the game but were eventually let down by conceding penalties at crucial times and missing too many tackles.
Not even a two-man numerical advantage could help them as Braydon Ennor and Fergus Burke closed out the scoring for the Crusaders despite them playing 10 of the final 14 minutes with 13 men after reserve hooker Hugh Roach was shown a red card and Sevu Reece a yellow.
“We showed a little bit of inexperience and missed some one-on-one tackles and we can’t afford that,” said Sunwolves captain Jake Schatz, adding he was pleased with the first-half performance that saw them trail 14-7, but not the second.
The Crusaders (5-1) dominated proceedings from the start but a much improved defensive effort from Naoya Okubo’s team meant it took the Christchurch, New Zealand-based team 19 minutes to get the scoreboard ticking over with Tom Christie scoring the opening try.
The Crusaders started the second half with a try but the Sunwolves replied with a fine solo try from flyhalf Garth April to keep the game close at 21-14 after 55 minutes.
Reece’s second and a try to Sione Havili gave the Crusaders a 35-14 lead before they were reduced to 14 men when replacement Hugh Roach was shown a red card for elbowing. They were down to 13 men when Reece received a yellow card but still managed tries to Braydon Ennor and Fergus Burke.
A sparkling try from Sione Havili in the 63rd minute put the game beyond doubt.
“It was a little bit touch and go for a bit,” said Crusaders captain Bryn Hall, who praised the “resilience and character within the group,” after they went down to 13 men.
The Sunwolves, whose last game in Japan was on Feb. 15, are set to remain on the road for at least the next two weeks when they play in empty stadiums in Melbourne and Sydney against the Rebels and Waratahs, respectively, after the Australian government said games after this weekend had to be played behind closed doors as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We have to get used to the fact we’re not going home,” said Schatz.
Saturday’s match between the Jaguares and Highlanders in Buenos Aires will be played without spectators after the mayor of Buenos Aires banned mass gatherings. Fans will be allowed to attend all other matches in this round but from next weekend’s eighth round and until further notice, matches in Australia will be played in closed stadiums.
Later Saturday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced all travelers arriving in New Zealand from midnight Sunday will have to self-isolate for 14 days, making most Super Rugby matches apart from New Zealand derbies impractical.
The Dunedin-based Highlanders, face quarantine if they can’t return home by the deadline.
Elsewhere, winger Rieko Ioane scored two tries as the Auckland-based Blues overran South Africa’s Lions 43-10, posting their first home win of the season.
The match continued a major revival for Ioane, who lost his All Blacks starting spot at last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, and for the Blues who move temporarily atop the New Zealand conference with a 4-2 record. The Blues last won the Super Rugby title in 2003 but, with recent wins over New Zealand rivals and in matches home and away, begin to shape as title contenders.
The match was tight at first and the Blues led by only 15-10 after 35 minutes. But a penalty try just before the break, for a professional foul by Lions flanker Ruan Vermaak, gave the Blues a comfortable lead and confidence going into the second half.
“We let ourselves down with our discipline, they were camped in our 22 especially in the first half,” Blues captain T.J. Faiane said. “But we stayed confident in our systems and not giving away too many penalties and for me that’s the most pleasing thing.”
The Blues were able to find huge amounts of space in the second half against a narrow and often disorganized Lions defense, which struggled to quickly address multiple attacking threats. The Blues backs and forwards combined in a series of superb attacking rushes that left the Lions flat-footed.
The Lions were recently South Africa’s most exciting attacking team and its best road team. But they have become one-dimensional this season, relying on lineout drives or building painstakingly through one-off runners. That made them easy targets for the Blues, who were able to isolate players and force turnovers.
“We pride ourselves on a fast start and a good start and I really think we had it,” Lions captain Elton Jantjies said. “But psychologically our discipline just cost us.”
Ioane scored the first try of the match in the eighth minute, using his power rather than speed to break the Lions’ defense. The Lions replied with their only try in the 16th minute, breaking down the Blues resistance after multiple phases.
A superb try to fullback Stephen Perofeta after a Lions turnover gave the Blues a 15-10 lead and the penalty try put them comfortably ahead at halftime.
Ioane scored his second soon after the break as the Blues became increasingly dominant. Tries to Gerard Cowley-Tuioti and Hoskins Sotutu earned the Blues a valuable bonus point.