Japan’s Sunwolves began their farewell season in Super Rugby in blistering fashion on 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 outfit with 16 points, including five-from-six with the boot.
“We only assembled four weeks ago,” said Jake Schatz, captain of a new-look Sunwolves side that has been hastily cobbled together.
“To put that effort in together today, I couldn’t be more proud of the guys. Everyone dug in and showed heart. It was incredible.”
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.
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.
Dargaville sprinted 50 metres to score the home side’s fourth try at the start of the second half, before April ghosted through on the hour mark and then converted to give the home side a 23-point cushion.
The Sunwolves finished 2-14 last year and had won just eight of 61 matches since joining the competition in 2016, many of those ending in some terrible hidings for the Japanese club.
They had also lost all five previous meetings with the Rebels but, though Andrew Kellaway and Andrew Deegan pulled tries back for the Melbourne side in a late flourish, the Sunwolves stood firm to secure a deserved win.
“We’re definitely disappointed with that,” said Rebels skipper Haylett-Petty.
“We leaked too many points. The Sunwolves played with speed and we weren’t able to get set — there’s plenty for us to work on for the rest of the season.”
Tries: Keisuke Moriya, Jaba Bregvadze, Tautalatasi Tasi, James Dargaville, Garth April
Conversions: April (5)
Tries: Anaru Rangi, Dane Haylett-Petty, Andrew Kellaway, Andrew Deegan
Conversions: Matt Toomua, Reece Hodge
Penalty: Matt Toomua
15 James Dargaville, 14 Siosaia Fifita, 13 Keisuke Moriya, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Tautalatasi Tasi, 10 Garth April, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Brendon O’Connor, 5 Michael Stolberg, 4 Kotaro Yatabe, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Jarred Adams
Substitutes: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Mitch Jacobson, 21 Naoto Saito, 22 Shogo Nakano, 23 JJ Engelbrecht
15 Dane Haylett-Petty (captain), 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Andrew Kellaway, 10 Matt To’omua, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Rob Leota, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Fereti Sa’aga
Substitutes: 16 Steve Misa, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Luke Jones, 20 Michael Wells, 21 Richard Hardwick, 22 Theo Strang, 23 Andrew Deegan
Sunwolves v Rebels
@ Level Five Stadium
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Shuhei Kubo (Japan), Tasuku Kawahara (Japan)
TMO: Minoru Fuji (Japan)