22:48 12 March 2016
Rugby: Sunwolves pipped at the post by Cheetahs
SINGAPORE, March 12, Kyodo
The Sunwolves learned the hard way Saturday that you need strength in depth to win games in the world's top regional rugby competition.
Mark Hammett's men once again put in a battling performance but failed to take the points when offered and eventually ran out of steam as the Cheetahs prevailed 32-31 at Singapore Sports Hub.
On a hot and steamy evening in the island state -- their home-away-from-home for three games this year -- the Sunwolves were leading 31-13 a few minutes into the second half, but as the physicality of the game took its toll, the bench of the visitors made the most impact.
"I must give the bench credit, they made the difference," Cheetahs captain Francois Venter said pitchside after the game.
It had all looked so good for the Sunwolves at the break with Akihito Yamada sprinting over for a sensational hat-trick of tries and Shota Horie crossing for his second in as many games.
"They surprised us with a few tricks," admitted Venter as Tusi Pisi, Riaan Viljoen and Yu Tamura kicked and passed superbly to create the four tries.
Pisi converted all four five-pointers and added a penalty shortly after halftime as Hammett's men looked to defy their critics and record their first Super Rugby win in just their second game.
But as Horie pointed out after the game, "our work rate dropped in the second half."
Flyhalf Niel Marais, who scored a try, a conversion and two penalties in the first half, converted a soft try by Uzair Cassiem in the 44th minute, before strolling over for his second five-pointer 10 minutes later to make it a four-point game.
The Sunwolves then missed two shots at goal via Pisi and Tamura. And with Hammett replacing Pisi and Yamada and Viljoen in discomfort following bangs to the head and leg, the Cheetahs made the most of their luck.
Following a lengthy period under the cosh in their own 22, Sunwolves No. 8 Ed Quirk was eventually sin-binned in the 71st minute after the hosts had been fairly cynical in infringing close to their line.
And the Cheetahs needed no second bite at the cherry with replacement Boom Prinsloo powering over from the resulting penalty and line out to hand his team the lead for the first time in the game.
Marais missed the extras to set up a nail biting finish. But the Sunwolves were unable to find another gear, and although they head back to Tokyo with a bonus point to their name for losing by seven or less, it was with a sense of what might have been.
"We are not satisfied," said Horie. "We needed to win."