TOKYO (AFP) – Israel Folau made history yesterday as the Waratahs inflicted a nail-biting 31-30 defeat on the Sunwolves, who are fighting for their Super Rugby lives.
The Wallabies star was a constant threat in Tokyo, scoring twice in the first half to finish a free-flowing game as Australia’s highest try-scorer in the competition with a career total of 58 and counting.
The Waratahs, semi-finalists last year and champions in 2014, survived a late scare to bounce back from a heart-breaking 20-19 loss to the Hurricanes in their opening game last weekend.
“We tried to score some Harlem Globetrotter tries,” said Waratahs captain Michael Hooper after the Sydney-based side’s five-try performance.
“That’s not what you want to do – you want to build pressure. But credit to the Sunwolves, they capitalised on our mistakes and kept us under pressure.”
The Sunwolves, thrashed 45-10 by the Sharks last week, took the lead with a breakaway try after eight minutes, Ryoto Nakamura teeing up Gerhard van den Heever to trundle over in the corner.
The Waratahs hit back moments later through Kurtley Beale, but a Hayden Parker penalty restored the home side’s advantage.
A quickfire Folau double looked to have knocked the stuffing out of the Wolves, only for the Tokyo franchise to snatch a 20-17 halftime lead through another Parker three-pointer and a converted Tom Rowe try.
Parker kept the pressure on with another penalty soon after the break, but Jack Dempsey crashed over and Bernard Foley kicked the extras as the visitors got their noses back in front again.
The Waratahs added seven more points just after the hour mark through a penalty try that saw veteran Sunwolves lock Luke Thompson sent to the sin-bin.
There was a further twist, however, as van den Heever spotted a gap to score his second try of the game and Parker’s boot reduced the deficit to a single point with 10 minutes left.
But Parker sliced a late drop goal attempt wide to ensure the Sunwolves – facing an uncertain future as Super Rugby bosses prepare to thrash out the competition’s format in March – failed to register just their seventh win at the start of their fourth season.
Folau, meanwhile, surpassed countryman Joe Roff and drew level with Caleb Ralph on 58 Super Rugby tries, one short of another New Zealander, Doug Howlett, who scored 59 between 1997 and 2007, most with the Highlanders.
“We didn’t quite fulfil our objective but the boys definitely stepped up,” said Sunwolves back Michael Little.
“The boys that came in really brought that physicality and we look forward to getting better as the competition moves on.”