Hito-Communications Sunwolves recorded their first ever win outside of Japan today with a dramatic last-second win over the DHL Stormers in the first ever Mitsubishi Estate Super Rugby match held in Hong Kong at the Mong Kok Stadium.
A Hayden Parker drop goal got the Sunwolves’ Hong Kong experiment off to the best possible start at Mong Kok Stadium on Saturday, with the fly half splitting the sticks with time expired to give his side a 26-23 victory over the Stormers.
It was the first time the Sunwolves have won two matches in a row, their first victory away from Tokyo and the final nail in the coffin of the Stormers’ finals hopes.
Much to the delight of the largely pro-Sunwolves crowd, Parker kicked truly from 30 metres out after his teammates had dug deep to drive the ball forward and give him a chance to win the game.
“I think in the last five minutes it was just free flow, the credit really has to go to the team,” Sunwolves coach Jamie Joseph said.
“When you just have a look at the quality of the game in terms of what the forward packs have to do in that heat, that laid the foundation I thought for us. We were playing a very big pack who targeted our set piece and did very well in those situations, but we were able to put them under pressure in other areas and Hayden was a big part of that and controlled the game very well.”
Hong Kong’s first Super Rugby match did not disappoint, with action from the outset and some superb tries from both sides. The TMO was called upon early after Dillyn Leyds pounced on a Sunwolves turnover in the Stormers half before weaving his way down field and touching down in the corner under pressure from two tacklers.
After much deliberation, Leyds was judged to have kept his feet in the air as he was bundled over the sideline and the South Africans took the lead after six minutes.
As expected, the Stormers took control in the scrum early and forced a number of penalties, while the Sunwolves opted for regular kicks to gain territory, some of which served little more purpose than to return the ball to the Stormers.
The Sunwolves continued to be their own worst enemy, with captain Willie Britz passing the ball straight to Stormers centre JJ Engelbrecht on the 22, allowing him to waltz over and make it 10-0, with Jean-Luc du Plessis adding the extras.
The Sunwolves were on the board soon after with a play that had just about everything, with Fumiaki Tanaka’s kick charged down before being hacked forward, with some crafty passing allowing Parker to dot down.
The flyhalf – who finished with 21 of the Sunwolves 26 points – added his own extras to make it 12-7 after 25 minutes. The Stormers continued to create scoring opportunities and were on the board again soon after, with scrum half Dewaldt Duvenage sliding through a clever grubber kick to Leyds, whose desperate lunge saw him touch down with centimetres to spare.
The winger’s first-half double pushed the score to 17-7, before Parker slotted a penalty to bring it back to 17-10 at the break.
“The first try was us having a go and trying to exploit an opportunity that we saw during the week that wasn’t there today, it could have been under their posts had we have taken that ball. The second one was soft,” Joseph said about his side’s slow start.
The second half took its time to get going, with players starting to show fatigue as the game tightened right up and the scoring ground to a halt. Joseph claimed during the week that the heat would favour his side against the heavier South Africans and it certainly looked that way in the 56th minute, with the Japanese side stringing together a host of positive phases to drive the Stormers back.
Their drive ended with veteran back rower Michael Leitch producing a superb offload to send lock Grant Hattingh over, with Parker’s extras tying the scores. Parker stepped up soon after to give the Sunwolves their first lead, slotting a penalty to give his side a 20-17 advantage with 15 minutes to play.
The Stormers wouldn’t lie down though, heaping pressure on their opponents to win two penalties within kicking distance, with fullback SP Marais slotting both, including a booming boot from his own half to put his side back in the lead with six minutes to play.
But the Sunwolves refused to be denied, levelling through a Parker penalty before the New Zealander’s magic sealed the deal.
“We created history today, it’s the first game the Sunwolves have won outside of Japan. We have had some lean times no doubt, but we’re heading in the right direction and that’s really pleasing,” Joseph said.
“What actually happened in the second half is we changed and we saw a different Sunwolves team come out, we played a lot more direct, a lot more decisive, we played with a lot more confidence than we did in the first half.”
For Stormers’ boss Robbie Fleck, there was little he could do but applaud the Sunwolves after his side’s finals hopes went up in smoke.
“They worked their way up the field and it was exceptional brilliance that won the game – well played,” he said.