HONG KONG—In sweltering heat, in the shadow of Lion Rock, the Sunwolves marked their debut in Hong Kong on May 19 with a hard-earned but deserving narrow victory over the Stormers, 26-23, in a thrilling end to the match with a dramatic drop-goal in stoppage time by flyhalf Hayden Parker.
It was a match of contrasting styles of play. The Sunwolves eager to run the ball and stretch the Stormers defense: and the Stormers, happier to slow the game and use their powerful pack to grind out a result.
The Sunwolves started the sharper of the teams, but both sides lacked discipline in handing the ball. In the 6th minute, against the run of the play, right wing Dillyn Leyds picked-up the ball in loose play and sprinted 65 metres to open the scoring with an acrobatic touchdown in the corner. The conversion was missed but the Stormers led 5-0.
Despite the Sunwolves dominating the opening 20 minutes, the Stormers looked more likely to score. After 21 minutes, JJ Engelbrecht intercepted a sloppy pass, and powered across the line. Flyhalf Jean Luc Du Plessis, added the extras, extending the Stormers lead to 12-0.
Almost immediately, the Sunwolves bounced back. Some slick passing, opened-up the Stormers defense, and scrumhalf Fumiaki Tananka sprinted for the line. The try was converted by Parker, and the Sunwolves narrowed the score to 12-7. Game on.
In the 33rd minute, the Stormers extended their lead to 17-7. A deft kick by scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage through the Sunwolves defence crossed the tryline and was touched down by the fleet-footed Leyds.
Still the Sunwolves clawed back, with a penalty in the 38th minute by Parker, to finish the half 17-10 down, and still very much in the game.
The secondhalf was cagey to start with. Both teams struggled to play fluid rugby. The pattern of play for the first 15 minutes reflected the Stormers dominant pack, and the Sunwolves desire to run the ball.
Then the game changed.
The sharper quicker Sunwolves passing and interplay led to a try under the posts for lock Grant Hattingh, converted by Parker, to even the score to 17-17. On 63 minutes, a penalty to Sunwolves converted by Parker, gave them the lead 20-17 for the first time in the match.
Yet, on 70 minutes, the Stormers drew level with a penalty by fullback Sarel Marais from 45 metres. And on 74 minutes the Stormers went ahead when Marais converted another penalty from over 55 metres to lead 23-20. The Stormers just had to hold out and retain the ball.
The Sunwolves still had bite: they fought back. Parker converted a penalty that just drifted over the posts on the 78th minute to even the score at 23-23.
Then in stoppage time Parker dealt the crushing blow, with a neat drop goal to send the Sunwolves fans howling, and secure victory 26-23.
It was the first time the Sunwolves had won back-to-back victories having beaten the Queensland Reds in Tokyo the previous week, and the on-pitch post-match celebrations reflected their delight.
The Stormers, having taken the lead, should have retained it, but in fairness to both teams, the heat was oppressive, and maybe the Sunwolves coped just a little better as the match progressed.
This was the first Super Rugby match in Hong Kong. What a celebration of rugby with a dramatic last-minute victory. Hopefully SANZAR will schedule more next season to promote the sport and add to the Hong Kong rugby portfolio of Sevens, Tens and Asian Rugby, for men and women, as well as the competitive domestic season.
Grahame Carder is a sports enthusiast, former player and resident in Hong Kong.