Japan’s Sunwolves put in a brave performance on debut but went down 26-13 to the Lions on Saturday at a sold-out Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo as Asia welcomed Super Rugby for the first time.
Skipper Shota Horie fired up the 25,000 crowd when he scored the Tokyo-based outfit’s first try in the competition after 61 minutes but, for all their disciplined effort, the new boys were unable to hold out the seasoned South Africans.
Horie’s converted try cut the Lions’ lead to 19-13 and subsequent penetrative runs from American flanker Andrew Durutalo and Japan winger Akihito Yamada deep into the opposition half had the crowd momentarily believing a win was possible.
However, hopes of a Super Rugby maiden triumph were soon dashed when talismanic flyhalf Tusi Pisi was sin-binned in the 65th minute for indiscipline and the visitors took full advantage of the extra man to add another try to their tally.
Hooker Robbie Coetzee, winger Courtnall Skosan, flanker Jaco Kriel and centre Lionel Mapoe all crossed as the Johannesburg-based Lions secured a bonus point and the margin would have been greater if Elton Jantjies had been more accurate with the boot.
The Sunwolves, who will also play three home matches in Singapore, must work on how to make the most of their chances while learning to cope with the physical aspect of Super Rugby.
“On attack, we showed that we can keep up with the pace of the game. That was not a problem. The speed we’re comfortable with – it’s the physicality we need to be better at,” Sunwolves coach Mark Hammett told reporters after the match.
Horie admitted that while he was disappointed with the result, he was buoyed by his team’s performance.
“The Lions were very strong physically, pushing us back behind the advantage line on many occasions. But we also showed we can defend well,” he said.
“A defeat is hard to swallow but the season has just started and we hope to build from this game.”
The Sunwolves are one of three new teams in Super Rugby this season. Argentina’s Jaguares came from behind to beat the Cheetahs 34-33 on debut on Friday in Bloemfontein, while South Africa’s Kings face the Sharks later on Saturday.