Melbourne Rebels’ Super Rugby campaign has kicked off in horror fashion, losing 36-27 to perennial battlers the Sunwolves in Japan.
Despite a belated comeback with two late tries, the Rebels left their run too late in Fukuoka against a team that’s being booted out of the competition at the end of the season.
It’s the first time the Sunwolves have won the opening game of a season and just their ninth overall victory in their fifth campaign.
Melbourne won all five previous meetings against the Sunwolves.
While the Rebels had eight debutants in their new-look squad, the Sunwolves only came together as an entire squad last month to prepare for the season under new coach Naoya Okubo.
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The hosts took the game away from the visitors in an attacking first half on Saturday, hanging on to the bulk of possession and leading 22-13 at the break to get the Japanese crowd roaring.
But the Wallabies five-eighth was far from his dominant best after that penalty kick, missing two conversions, as he began life playing with Fijian international Frank Lomani.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 20, 2020
They are the Rebels’ new halves pairing following the off-season departures of former Wallabies Will Genia and Quade Cooper.
Former Australian under-20 captain Andrew Kellaway scored a sensational chip-kick try in the second half, joining Rebels teammates Anaru Rangi, captain Dane Haylett-Petty and Andrew Deegan on the scoreboard.
“We’re disappointed with that. Plenty for us to work on and plenty of time left in the season so we’ll go away and work hard,” Haylett-Petty said.
“I think when we started building a bit of momentum (in the second half) they were able to slow our ball down and make some crucial tackles.
“(We need to work on) our defence, we leaked too many points there and the Sunwolves played with speed and we weren’t able to get set in time.”
The Bay of Plenty Steamers have teamed up with the Chinese Rugby Union to create the final side for the inaugural season of Global Rapid Rugby:
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