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Autumn Leaves 2016

Japan Rugby: Sunwolves vs Force

Photo: Masataka Matsuo on Flickr

Japan Rugby: Sunwolves vs Force

Patrick Jack

With 10 games played in the 2016 Super Rugby competition, the Sunwolves have somehow managed a season that is both better than expected, and much worse.


Tatsumine Sugiura on Flickr

There was that famous win. To the relief of almost everyone involved in Super Rugby, not least the suffering fans, the Sunwolves recorded their first ever victory in April, beating the Jaguares 36-28 in Tokyo.

There was an impressive draw. The most recent match, against the heavily fancied Stormers side from Brisbane, ended in a rather heroic draw in a humid Singapore National Stadium. Barring a last-gasp try, it could have been a surprising win for the Tokyo-based team.

There have been several very impressive performances in defeat that have proved a level of resilience and character beyond what was thought possible. While disappointing, the 31-32 loss to the Cheetahs and a 27-30 defeat by the Bulls were much closer contests than expected as the underdog Japanese team pushed the experienced South African franchises to the wire.


Masataka Matsuo on Flickr

Finally, the Sunwolves have unearthed some real star players already. While out-half Tusi Pisi and captain Shota Horie were already known quantities in the international game, they have both proved their merit to the side. Furthermore, outside-centre Derek Carpenter of New Zealand has scored several key tries of late while his inside-centre partner Harumichi Tatekawa has been one of many Sunwolves' players to be named in the 'Team of the Week'. The stand-out performer, however, has been 30 year-old winger Akihito Yamada, who has eight tries already this season, topping the entire league. His excellent finishing has been a revelation this year, impressing rugby scouts from all over the globe.


Tatsumine Sugiura on Flickr

A dramatic win and some spirited defeats were as much as many fans could have hoped for just a few months ago. Yet, there is the undeniable feeling amongst Sunwolves' observers that there could have been so much more. The agonising losses to the Cheetahs and the Bulls could easily have been turned into wins with a little more discipline and experience in the closing minutes, while the 33-28 loss at Nelson Mandela Stadium to the (also inexperienced) Kings must still rankle with head-coach Mark Hammett. There have been a few embarrassments, not least the Round 8 match against the Cheetahs in which the Sunwolves conceded a staggering 92 points in 80 forgettable minutes.


Jason Milich on Flickr

Following the victory over the Jaguares, thousands of loyal fans turned up to the May 7th game against Western Force with high hopes and even higher spirits. A quick-fire try from Yamada in just the third minute only gave further encouragement to a second victory on a beautiful day at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo. This early try proved to be the best it got all day, with the visiting Australians' quickly turning the orange tide. Force hit back almost immediately with a sloppy intercept try and three more in the first half, with man-of-the-match Marcel Brache completing his hat-trick within the opening twenty minutes. The second-half was a much more even affair; the Sunwolves edging it three tries to two, but ultimately not doing enough to atone for their early mistakes.


Masataka Matsuo on Flickr

Next up is the long awaited visit to Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane where the Sunwolves will come up against national icon Ayumu Goromaru and the Reds. The season will culminate on July 15th away to the Sharks, which means there is just one more chance to catch the Sunwolves in action here in Tokyo. On July 2nd, they will host the Waratahs in what is sure to be a sell-out game and the team's best chance to get another win. Buy your tickets now and don't miss out – you're never quite sure what result to expect from this Sunwolves side but at the very least it will be a farewell to remember.