Waratahs survive serious Sunwolves scare

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman in Japan

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson lamented his side's mounting turnover tally after they escaped from Tokyo with a 31-30 win over the Sunwolves.

NSW had notched half-centuries in their past three encounters against the Sunwolves but there was no such rampage on Saturday afternoon in Tokyo.

Leading by one point with four minutes to go, the Waratahs were forced onto the defensive amid a Sunwolves' attacking charge as the hosts attempted to snatch an unlikely victory.

Sunwolves flyhalf Hayden Parker looked to have completed the shock with a drop goal in the 79th minute but his attempt was off target after a desperate chargedown attempt from Karmichael Hunt.

Replacement Sunwolves hooker Atsushi Sakate looked to have pounced on the kick in-goal and scored but he was ruled off side and the Waratahs breathed a major sigh of relief.

NSW finished on the wrong end of a 19-16 turnover count as they 

The Waratahs spoke pre-game about the need to be wary of the Sunwolves’ unpredictability but they found themselves sucked right in at times, allowing the hosts to score some opportunistic tries when it counted.

Instead, they finished on the wrong end of a 19-16 turnover count and Gibson said that nearly proved their downfall.

"We're very pleased to win a very close game, a very exciting game with lots of positive rugby," Gibson said post-match.

"There are aspects of our game we will be disappointed in in terms of the amount of turnovers that we gave the Sunwolves and they certainly thrived on that."

Skipper Michael Hooper leaned on a basketball reference post-match when asked his assessment of the clash.

“I think we potentially just tried to score some Harlem Globetrotter tries, which is not what we want to do,” he said.

“We want to build phases, put them under pressure and we didn’t do that. They capitalised on a lot of mistakes that we produced and then also put together some really good phases to keep us under pressure.”

Kurtley Beale made his Super Rugby return on Saturday afternoon. Photo: Getty imagesTwo early Sunwolves tightheads once again exposed a fragile NSW scrum, a department that has become such an obvious liability that skipper Michael Hooper opted for the corner over a scrum in almost every attacking penalty situation.

Hooper said there were positives to be found from a second half improvement in that area

We're very pleased to win a very close game, a very exciting game with lots of positive rugby. There are aspects of our game we will be disappointed in in terms of the amount of turnovers that we gave the Sunwolves and they certainly thrived on that.

"We came up here knowing the Sunwolves have a strong set piece," he said.

"I was impressed in the tactics they used there in the scrum, so for our front rowers it's a really good lesson in that, particularly that first 40.

"They showed a different picture that we didn't expect. However, in saying that, I was very proud of our boys in the second half when we were close to getting a couple of penalties right there at the death, particularly when they had seven on the scrum.

"I was proud we were able to fight back there and probably get the ascendancy but without pay, return at the end."

Waratahs lock Rob Simmons had an intercept chance just a minute in but couldn’t quite grab hold of the ball just five metres off the line.

The Sunwolves began to build some attacking pressure but a Jack Dempsey intercept put the Waratahs back on the front foot.

Curtis Rona had what appeared to be the best chance of the opening stages after a slick Kurtley Beale move put the winger on the charge but his opposite number Semisi Masirewa managed to dislodge the ball in a tackle as Rona dove for the line.

Where the Waratahs were left rueing some early chances, the Sunwolves made the most of their opportunity when Simmons threw an intercept pass into the hands of Ryoto Nakamura, who handed off to Gerhard van den Heever.

Kurtley Beale returned the favour almost immediately as he scooped up a short-range Sunwolves kick to score in his first Super Rugby outing of 2019.

Just as it seemed the Waratahs might have been losing momentum, Israel Folau nabbed a quick double to snatch back the lead.

His first came in an edge-to-edge play after winger Curtis Rona was run down on the left edge, with a slick Hunt offload putting Israel  Folau over in the corner.

Folau was content to do it all himself the second time around, beating three defenders to score his 58th career try and overtake Joe Roff as Australia’s leading Super Rugby try-scorer.

Rob Simmons. Photo: Getty ImagesThe Sunwolves, though, caught the Waratahs on the hop in defence and it was debutant Tom Rowe who found himself the beneficiary of a speedy Nakamura offload to steal back the lead.

A Hayden Parker penalty in the 43rd minute stretched the Sunwolves’ lead but the Waratahs turned their fortunes around with a Jack Dempsey pick-and-go rewarding a 17-phase passage.

Ill-discipline turned out to be the Waratahs’ saviour midway through the second half as a series of Sunwolves penalties gave NSW a chance to go to their lineout.

It was a rare nine-man lineout that reaped the ultimate reward for the Waratahs in a penalty try  and a yellow card for Sunwolves lock Luke Thompson.

Van den Heever had his own double with a spectacular finish off the back of a seven-man scrum to narrow the score to just one point.

It was the Sunwolves that looked the most threatening in the final minutes with an attacking barrage igniting a passionate Japanese crowd.

The final flurry was paused with a serious injury to Sunwolves flanker Ed Quirk, who was stretchered off after hurting his knee, and a Foley kick to touch made sure the Waratahs could go back to Sydney with a win.

The Waratahs have a bye in week three while the Sunwolves play the Chiefs in New Zealand.


Sunwolves 30

Tries: van den Heever 2, Rowe

Cons: Parker 2

Pens: Parker 3

Yellow card: Thompson (63’)

Waratahs 31

Tries: Folau 2, Beale, Dempsey, Penalty

Cons: Foley 2