Japan’s Sunwolves stunned the Jaguares 36-28 in a pulsating clash of Super Rugby expansion teams Saturday to post their first-ever win after a miserable run of seven defeats.
It was a victory largely made in Samoa as flyhalf Tusi Pisi kept the Tokyo side in the game against the explosive Argentines, booting 18 points, including the go-ahead penalty eight minutes from time.
“To get this historic win in Japan is very special,” Sunwolves captain Shota Horie told reporters. “We had to try to forget what happened in our last game and put everything on the line today and luckily we did that.”
The Sunwolves have endured a torrid first season in Super Rugby, with last week’s 92-17 humiliation by the Cheetahs marking yet another low.
The Jaguares, who boast 13 of the Argentina side that reached last year’s World Cup semi-finals, looked set to snap a six-match losing streak as they opened a 13-8 halftime lead.
Captain Agustin Creevy crashed over early before Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino and Emiliano Boffelli added brilliant tries, but Juan Martin Hernandez missed all three conversions — which was to prove costly.
A converted try from Facundo Isa gave the visitors a 25-16 advantage before the Sunwolves, roared on by their army of howling fans, came storming back, sparked by a slashing try from New Zealander Derek Carpenter.
Pisi, who is set to join English second-tier club Bristol at the end of the season, held his nerve to fire the Sunwolves back in front 29-28 before Harumichi Tatekawa burst over with the final play to trigger wild scenes at the buzzer.
“I’m extremely proud,” said Sunwolves coach Mark Hammett after an emotional afternoon.
“I had a bit of a tear-up in the (coach’s) box and that’s something I didn’t think I would have before I came here.”
Before the match, the teams observed a minute’s silence for the victims of last week’s deadly earthquakes in southern Japan.
“We were deeply sorry not to be able to bring the people of Kyushu any relief in our last game,” said Horie. “I would be very happy if this win can offer them some small hope at this difficult time.”
Two teams who have been criss-crossing the globe in recent weeks wilted as the second half wore on but Amorosino refused to blame fatigue.
“That’s the not the reason,” he said. “This tournament is very hard for everyone. We have to look at the video and start again.”
The Sunwolves joined Super Rugby on the back of Japan’s astonishing performance at the World Cup where the Brave Blossoms won three pool games, including a 34-32 shock upset over two-time champions South Africa.
But delays bringing in playing and coaching staff sabotaged the team’s preparations while the squad’s lack of depth prompted former Japan coach Eddie Jones, now in charge of England, to slam the Sunwolves as “embarrassing.”