Sunwolves v Hurricanes: Comparison of Super Rugby Styles

Super Rugby Rd 1 - Sunwolves v Hurricanes
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It was a terrific opportunity for Super Rugby to expand it’s reach, when the three expansion franchises were initiated. The Sunwolves v Hurricanes match played yesterday in Japan was  first on many accounts.

The final score was 17-83. A vast gap on the scoreboard which translates into much speculation. If this is the outcome from the very first match that the Japanese team has received, when facing a New Zealand (NZ) Super Rugby franchise, what could happen when the Sunwolves travel to the strongest conference?

That is not the only assumption, as the initial dissection of Round One matches begins. All nine matches concluded, the scores and results will be a reflection on all teams ability and forecasted placing in the competition. Over the last 24 hours, some commentators have already doubted the Sunwolves relevance–but it is far too early to be so unfair.

The comparison of Super Rugby styles shows how a team like the ‘Canes have progressed. In reality, it might have taken 20 seasons to perfect their style of game. A long wait for a championship, so for Japan rugby fans, results like yesterday form part of a long-term vision.

Sunwolves v Hurricanes

Prince Chichibunomiya Stadium in Japan was brimming with expecting rugby fans when the encounter took place. The Sunwolves are only in that sides second Super Rugby season. The Hurricanes on the other hand were reigning competition Champions. Not only that, but they were experienced over 21 seasons of professional rugby.

That vast difference in experience and knowledge was on show. Even if you compare the years of competitive activity, the sides were separated by a wide distance in familiarity with the concept of Super Rugby, and how to maximize their advantages.

And that status took the ‘Canes many years to achieve. They too have suffered such heavy defeats–in Round One of last season, in fact the Brumbies inflicted a 52-10 trashing. So by comparison, the Sunwolves may feel some comfort that they are not alone in receiving a heavy loss.

Record Scoreline – In defeating the Sunwolves, the 2017 Hurricanes has set the highest overseas winning margin. They eclipsed Waratahs victory over the Kings 10-72, in 2013.

Highest ever scores – Cheetahs 92 Sunwolves 17 (2016), Bulls 61 Chiefs 17 (2009), Crusaders 47 Hurricanes 7 (2005), Blues 74 Stormers 28 (1998), Sharks 64 Rebels (2013), Blues 60 Hurricanes 7 (2002). Super Rugby record – Crusaders 96 Waratahs 19 (2002)

Hurricanes Score at Will in 13 Try Rout

While most will read the record scoreline as an indication of the difference between the two sides. A cold hard fact of Super Rugby, even if you respect that the Sunwolves amassed 17 points. They crossed for one try in first half, and ended the game with three tries–much to the delight of fans. It didn’t console the fact that Ardie Savea scored two tries inside 15 minutes.

Sunwolves 17 (R. Viljoen, S. Kin, W. Britz tries; S. Kin con)
Hurricanes 83 (A. Savea 2, V. Aso 2, R.Riccitelli, TJ Perenara, J. Savea, N. Laumape, B. Thomson, M. Fatialofa 2, B. Shields, W. Goosen tries; O. Black 9 cons)

The Hurricanes came into this match wanting to establish a good base. And with Beauden Barrett and Dane Coles only starting off the bench [due to the All Blacks timed introduction to the competition] the late withdrawal of Nehe Milner-Skudder and Cory Jane might have upset the teams formula at one stage. Not today, they are a well organized side, with good depth.

Most of the backline scored tries, with ‘the Bus’ Julian Savea looking in great condition as he ran 70 meters and beat three men and score. Vince Aso deputized for Jane superbly and Jordie Barrett looked settled in his first outing. Only after 60 minutes did they lose their fluency–a yellow card balancing the competition. But it was clear that with a 5-45 halftime advantage, they had to concentrate more on keeping their shape, and while they stuttered to a close, they come away with a good hit-out (only Blade Thomson suffering an injury, of concern).

John Plumtree was satisfied with that; “Obviously the challenges are going to be a lot greater coming up than what we faced today, but everything we do we’re just trying to do better and the players are buying into that and the leaders are driving it and that’s the pleasing thing for us.”

Sunwolves Must Look for the Positives

What will not be lost on ‘Wolves head coach Filo Tiatia is the potential damage to his players, that a 13 try to three rout will have. Especially if this is a taste of what the side must expect on the road trip to NZ. No manager wants to see his side so heavily defeated. So if Tiatia can ‘hold that feeling’ when his men were scoring points, it can bring benefits in fixtures where the opposition is more evenly matched.

Last season close results dotted their campaign, so the belief that the team have the will to drive forward is key. Often left scampering in defense, going backwards often, it is crucial to look at their strength at the lineout (Sam Wykes was strong here). Improve on 89.5% success rate, and it can be a weapon where the strong forwards drive towards the line.

Former Hurricanes loose forward Tiatia would have had mixed emotions, but that element needs to be controlled in his men. Japanese Rugby is a respectful culture, so he would have been proud that his team played a clean game. They only conceded six penalties, whereas the ‘Canes benefited the home side with a huge count of 15 infringements.

The ‘Wolves stayed committed, and in the 34th minute when gifted with a long sideline penalty kick, they regathered, drove hard and then spread the ball to the edge. Riaan Viljoen received a favourable TMO call, to excite the home fans and be his sides first try scorer of 2017.

What positives can they find?

Hakaru Tamura from the Toshiba Brave Lupis was given the helm, and he did have many moments to be satisfied with until he was taken off with a head knock. Many of his kicks received applause from the crowd, who always voiced their appreciation when the Sunwolves made any ground. That territory proved to be 53%, as was the continuity that is one positive to hold onto.

96.5% of their own rucks were won, so they have the security of possession to build on. Offloads, cleans breaks and defenders beaten, all metrics to highlight. That team culture is what Tiatia and his coaching group must promote. Because on the road is where the true test is. Retaining confidence, even after a loss is critical to any possibility of winning away–and that includes at Singapore National Stadium.

One player who received the ‘Wolves howls of approval, was Derek CarpenterThe midfielder was adventurous, wanting to use territory and his early range of kicks tested Barrett at fullback. The new recruit did a better than expected job, and both teams kept the ball alive throughout. A comparison of Super Rugby styles, where the Hurricanes are supremely confident in their ability [winning a Championship does that for you].

If a positive can be found, it will be that Sunwolves v Hurricanes exposes the Japanese franchise to observe highly skilled sides like the ‘Canes. The home side kept their heads up throughout the 80 minutes, and if they retain that offensive mindset, it will show rewards in the weeks and months to come.

Wolves Energy and Enthusiasm Key Qualities to Build On

Willem Britz and Ed Quirk were ‘balls of energy’ and the energetic side appear to be fit. They switched up the tempo after 65 minutes, which resulted in Shokei Kin bursting onto a shortball to score. The elation from the crowd further boosted the home side, so enthusiasm is a potent injection, for this close knit team.

Across the opening five rounds, it will take every ounce of effort to progress strongly until their first Bye. They host the Kings in Singapore next week, before a trip to South Africa. That will be a gauge of how they might travel in New Zealand. Travel is a factor, but they must manage that effectively, with good recovery and substitutions.

And while this result will be tough to accept. they must still recognize that it is round one of seventeen. Over a long season, the Sunwolves must be sure they improve from here. 17-83 is a cold hard fact, but for such a new side the lessons now may bring rewards in the future. The Hurricanes on the other hand, will be very pleased and aim to continue that fine form when they host the Rebels at home next week.


Be sure to read the Super Rugby Forecast, out every Thursday of the Super Rugby competition for 2017.

“Main photo credit”