1. Penalty count hurts Sunwolves
Sunwolves will have felt hard done by the officiating against Blues, but when you concede 14 penalties to the opponents’ three, it cannot simply be the man in the middle that is to blame. Sunwolves conceded eight penalties in the second half (to the Blues’ 0), which saw both Semisi Masirewa and replacement Nick Vella sent to the bin and ultimately cost them the game in Auckland.
While their rush defence has worked wonders in Super Rugby this season, most notably in their victory against the Chiefs in Round 3, they need to ensure that they do not stray offside and concede cheap penalties. There was no clear leader on the pitch during the second half to convey the referee’s words of warning to players in both English and Japanese. It’s times like these that the likes of Michael Leitch are sorely missed for the Sunwolves.
2. Booth bursts offer promise
Jamie Booth did not disappoint on his first start for the Sunwolves. He certainly caught the eye with his breaks from the base of the breakdown, gaining valuable metres and improving Sunwolves’ field position on each occasion.
While Kaito Shigeno and Keisuke Uchida have put in admirable displays for the Japan franchise this season, Booth’s ability to run with ball in hand from the ruck will add a different dimension to Sunwolves’ game and another option for Scott Hansen and Tony Brown, given that this is not something that either Shigeno or Uchida have shown much of this season.
3. No Parker, no problem!
Eyebrows were raised when Scott Hansen announced the team for the Blues game, especially around the no.10 jersey and the decision to hand inexperienced utility back Rikiya Matsuda a start at stand-off over Hayden Parker.
Matsuda hardly put a foot wrong though in what was his first ever Super Rugby start, slotting all four of his place kicks in addition to scoring Sunwolves’ first try of the game after showing great support to be an inside option for Warren Rahboni-Vosayaco on the left wing.
If the worst does ever happen and Hayden Parker picks up an injury, Hansen and Tony Brown have a reliable goal-kicker and stand-off waiting in the wings.
4. Missing: Godzilla
We were sure that after being left out of the team to face Chiefs that Hosea Saumaki would make his first appearance of the season last weekend against Blues, having travelled and trained with the squad. Alas, this was not the case and the curious case of Saumaki continues.
There must be something happening behind the scenes preventing the ‘Tongan Godzilla’ from getting game time in Super Rugby this term. His Japan future and a place at RWC 2019 are still up the air with just six months to go until the tournament. With players from Japan’s Rugby World Cup training squad being deployed in the Sunwolves team over the next couple of years, we could receive an indication on Saumaki’s future later this month.