Rugby: Sunwolves' rally falls short

The Bulls' Nick De Jager (with ball) shrugs off a tackle by a Sunwolves opponent during yesterday's Super Rugby game. The Bulls led 23-10 at one stage, but the newcomers fought back to finish 27-30.
The Bulls' Nick De Jager (with ball) shrugs off a tackle by a Sunwolves opponent during yesterday's Super Rugby game. The Bulls led 23-10 at one stage, but the newcomers fought back to finish 27-30.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Despite clever tactics, newcomers' loss to Bulls brings anguish of 2nd narrow defeat

SUPER RUGBY

Sunwolves 27
Bulls 30

It appears the National Stadium is both a talisman and a curse for the Sunwolves. First they lost to the Cheetahs by just one point. Yesterday, they fell to the Bulls by three, leaving them still without a maiden Super Rugby victory.

The 30-27 defeat extended the Japanese franchise's losing streak to four games since joining the elite club competition this year.

Yet, while Kallang has been the site of their heartbreaks, it has also been the stage for their finest performances. They were outclassed in their other games against the Rebels (9-35) and Lions (13-26).

Yesterday, they started bravely, courtesy of a second-minute try by flanker Andrew Durutalo. But the Bulls muscled their way to a 23-10 lead through tries by captain Adriaan Strauss (26th minute) and flanker Roelof Smit (47th).

The Sunwolves struggled to cope with the physicality of the Bulls, who were effective at the rucks, dominated the scrums and had 70 per cent of possession in the first half. The hosts then cleverly resorted to chipping and kicking to try to counter their stronger opponents.

In the 56th minute, they finally found a gap on the left flank. And Japanese star Akihito Yamada recorded his fourth try in two games in Singapore, following the first-half hat-trick he scored in the Sunwolves' 31-32 loss to the Cheetahs a fortnight ago.

The 7,571-strong crowd sensed a possible comeback victory for the home side, but Jamba Ulengo's try shut the door in the 66th minute.

Nonetheless, the Sunwolves finished with a flourish thanks to scrum-half Yuki Yatomi's try at the death.

Coach Mark Hammett felt the three tries which his team conceded were not from defensive errors.

The 43-year-old Kiwi said: "They are big guys, and two of the tries were from push-over scrums. I saw real positives and we kept our defensive line."

He also praised Yamada, calling him a "real talent" and adding: "He's a world-class finisher. Singapore seems to bring out the best in him."

To that, Yamada joked: "I think Singapore can be my second home."

Bulls coach Nollis Marais felt the Sunwolves are an ever-improving side. The South African said: "I'm just glad we played them now, and not weeks later. They're just going to get better, they're a clever side."

But for Sunwolves' skipper Shota Horie, 30, the loss was another wasted opportunity.

The hooker said: "We regret the four losses and it's disappointing. We've just got to look forward to the next game."

The Sunwolves will next travel to South Africa to face the Kings in Port Elizabeth next Saturday.

Like the Sunwolves, the Kings have lost all four of their matches to date this season.

In fact, the South African outfit have a poorer scoring record than the Japanese newcomers, losing by an average margin of 31 points.

Yet, Hammett insists they are not too hung up about getting a win.

He said: "The moment we believe that we are favourites, we are going to lose. And they are playing on their home ground, so we've got to be prepared to put in our best performance."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 27, 2016, with the headline 'SUNWOLVES' RALLY FALLS SHORT'. Print Edition | Subscribe