Cape Town (AFP) – Wellington Hurricanes outmuscled Japan’s vastly improved Sunwolves for a 43-15 bonus-point win to take them to the top of the Super Rugby standings on Friday.
The Hurricanes notched seven tries to two at home, including a brace for Vince Aso, although three late efforts gave the scoreboard a lopsided look that did not reflect the Sunwolves’ efforts.
In Cape Town, Western Stormers snapped a three-match losing run with a dominant first-half performance laying the foundations for a 34-18 win over Melbourne Rebels.
Recalled winger JJ Engelbrecht scored two tries for the Stormers as they climbed three places to ninth on the combined standings while a Rebels team suffering a fourth straight loss remained seventh.
Thrashed 83-17 last year in their only previous meeting with the Hurricanes, Sunwolves opened the scoring in Wellington and dominated possession.
But captain Pieter Labuschagne said their finishing let them down.
“We just couldn’t get over the line but we stuck in there right until the end and gave it our all,” he said.
Hurricanes skipper Brad Shields said his side needed to muster a huge defensive effort before finally unleashing their formidable backline attack.
“It was a tough battle and the Sunwolves certainly turned up to play,” he said.
“I’m very pleased with the way we defended and to come out and score a couple of tries at the end was awesome.”
The signs looked ominous for the Sunwolves when Aso crossed in the third minute, only for his effort to be disallowed due to a forward pass in the build up.
The visitors responded positively to the reprieve, working the ball through 14 phases before Labuschagne fended off Ardie Savea to score the opening try of the match.
The Hurricanes hit back straight away through Julian Savea, who scooped up Matt Proctor’s offload before crashing over the tryline.
Debutant Finlay Christie made it two for the hosts when set up by Beauden Barrett, who kicked the conversion to give the Hurricanes a 14-10 lead.
The Sunwolves then came close to scoring only to concede a try through some sloppy defending just before half-time when number eight Reed Princep bolted over the line from the back of a scrum.
The Hurricanes took control after the restart through Jordie Barrett’s 60-metre breakaway try, and Aso had his second five-pointer of the night disallowed.
The Sunwolves also had two tries ruled out, both because of double movements, and pinned the Hurricanes back in their own half for much of the second half.
The reward came when Kenki Fukuoka sprinted down the wing to collect Yutaka Nagare’s kick and make it 26-15.
But Aso’s luck finally improved as he scored two tries in the dying minutes, which along with a five-pointer to Shields, blew out the score to 43-15.
A Stormers side desperate for a victory after six losses in nine matches appeared to be cruising to victory when they built a 24-6 lead on 45 minutes before a small public holiday crowd.
But two soft tries from winger Sefa Naivalu cut the gap to nine points before Engelbrecht notched his second try in additional time and Damian Willemse converted for a 14-point personal tally.
“We made it hard for ourselves in the second half, but I was encouraged by the way we used width to bring our wingers into play,” said Stormers skipper Siya Kolisi.
Rebels captain Adam Coleman said: “We leaked too many points during the opening half, partly because we gave away a lot of penalties owing to problems at the set pieces,” he said.