Rugby: Sunwolves sharp and motivated but fall to stronger, fitter Lions 37-24 in Super Rugby game

Coach says morale not affected by news of being dropped from competition after 2020

Sunwolves' left wing Semisi Masirewa attempts to score against the Lions during the Super rugby match on March 23, 2019, at the National Stadium. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

It was not a matter of focus and motivation, but a lack of ability, that led to the Sunwolves' 37-24 defeat by South Africa's Lions on Saturday (March 23) night at the National Stadium.

The encounter was the first since the Japanese side received news on Friday that they would be booted out of the Super Rugby competition after next season, but head coach Tony Brown insisted after the match that the bad news had not distracted his team.

He said: "The news didn't affect team morale. The Lions game was our sole focus and we are not concerned about what's going to happen in the future because all that is out of our hands."

The home side started the tie brightly, gaining 22m from kick-off and almost forcing a try from the get-go, only to be overruled by both the referee and the technical match official.

Still, the Sunwolves went ahead 7-0 after the referee awarded them a penalty try, before 4,389 fans at the Sports Hub.

But the Lions equalised via a converted try, and went into half-time 12-7 up after Lions captain Malcolm Marx - the scorer of his team's first try - scored another in the 35th minute.

The Sunwolves pulled the score back to 12-10 early in the second half with a 41st-minute penalty, but the tiring team were overpowered by the strong Lions side thereafter.

This condemned the Japanese to their fifth loss in six games in the Australian conference this season.

It was their second and final game here this season.

Brown said: "We were getting hammered at the breakdown and scrums. Not much has changed in the second half as compared to previous matches, so we have to look at what we do at the breakdowns and try to improve that."

Captain Dan Pryor added that, despite the loss and their impending Super Rugby exit, the players are still focused on their early-season goal of winning every game.

"The jersey means a lot to the boys. The culture that the Sunwolves have is very rare - the boys love playing for the jersey.

"While the news is devastating, it doesn't mean anything. We've got a goal to win every game and the boys are here to achieve their goal," he said.

Fans The Sunday Times spoke to at the National Stadium yesterday were disappointed that the Sunwolves will no longer be playing in Super Rugby after next season.

The competition will return to 14 teams and a round-robin format from 2021.

Sunwolves supporter Chris Howells said: "I think it's a shame because we're trying to build the game and we supporters want to see the game build, not cut back.

"I think them losing this is not good."

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