18:24 25 February 2017
Rugby: Sunwolves put to the sword in Super Rugby opener
By Rich Freeman
TOKYO, Feb. 25, Kyodo
The Sunwolves were blown away by a rampant Hurricanes side Saturday as they opened their 2017 Super Rugby season with an 83-17 loss at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.
The reigning champions started as they finished last season when they won eight straight games to lift the silverware, leaving a number of Filo Tiatia's squad shell-shocked.
To their credit, the home side did bounce back to score the last two tries of the game through Shokei Kin and the tireless Willie Britz. But the gulf in experience and preparation was clear for all to see.
"We have been training since November and the Sunwolves have only just assembled, so it's an uneven playing field," said Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd.
"We have had to make only a few small changes to the squad over the last few years and have key players in key areas and leaders who are all very settled."
In contrast, Tiatia's injury-depleted side had 12 players making their debut for the franchise, of whom 10 were playing Super Rugby for the first time.
"Hopefully we won't lose any more as we are dropping like flies," Tiatia said after a couple more players were forced to leave the field.
Tiatia said that he hoped people would be talking about the debutants who took the field rather than the scoreline.
"We were playing the reigning champions and it was a tough old day at the office. But what a great day for Japan and the Sunwolves to have (those) players playing their first Super Rugby game."
While there were glimpses of what the likes of Hikaru Tamura, Takaaki Nakazuru and Shota Emi can do at the highest level, the intensity of the Hurricanes, matched with their skill sets and physicality, was unlike anything most of the Top League regulars had ever experienced before.
The Wellington-based team, who had the luxury of starting All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Dane Coles on the bench, ran up more than a point a minute in the first half and ended the match with 13 tries, just one away from the Super Rugby record.
Three players -- Vince Aso, Michael Fatialofa and Ardie Savea -- scored twice and another seven players added tries of their own, with Otere Black adding nine conversions as the Hurricanes mixed brute force with pace and ingenuity not to mention a good kicking game.
Riaan Viljoen gave the crowd of 17,553 something to cheer about when he opened the Sunwolves' account for the season in the 33rd minute, while Kin and Britz ensured it was the Sunwolves who finished the game stronger.
"We were happy with the first 60 to 65 minutes, but the Sunwolves won the last 15 minutes," said Hurricanes captain TJ Perenara.
His Sunwolves counterpart Ed Quirk said that despite the one-sided score, there are some positives the team can take from their performance.
"It got a bit tough down our end sometimes, but it is not about how you start, it is about how you finish and true credit to the boys, they showed true grit," said the Australian, who is in his second season with the side.
"(We showed) great composure (to score) two tries there at the end. That's how we want to play, but we want to play that way from minute one to minute 80."
Perhaps the most telling stat of the game was that the Sunwolves actually dominated possession, 52 to 48 percent, and more than held their own in the scrums and line-outs.
But every time they made a mistake, and there were plenty, the Hurricanes would more often than not scoop up the loose ball and race downfield to score.
Forty missed tackles didn't help the Sunwolves cause either and by committing too many people to eventually bring down one Hurricane there was plenty of space for Perenara and his teammates to exploit out wide.
And when those players include Julian Savea, who has scored 45 tries in 52 tests for New Zealand, that can only mean you are in for a long afternoon, as the Sunwolves found out.