Sunwolves make Super Rugby history in searing Hong Kong heat, winning over fans along the way
A last-gasp Hayden Parker drop goal seals a groundbreaking victory for the Japanese side as Mong Kok Stadium proves the perfect venue
Sporting events have a tendency to come and go in Hong Kong but there wasn’t a soul at Mong Kok Stadium on Saturday questioning Super Rugby’s future in the city as the Sunwolves made history with a 26-23 win over the Stormers.
The 4,832-strong crowd erupted as Sunwolves fly half Hayden Parker’s match-winning drop goal sailed through with time expired, all worries surrounding the heat and the relevance of the match extinguished.
It wasn’t the 6,000 people organisers had hoped for but it just felt right, with Mong Kok providing a far superior atmosphere to past Natixis Cup clashes at Aberdeen and Siu Sai Wan.
“I think we saw a little bit of what the Hong Kong Sevens are about and the crowd was just amazing,” said Sunwolves captain Willie Britz. “It was a great atmosphere, very lively, extremely hot.”
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During the week the first Super Rugby match to be held in Hong Kong was at risk of being overshadowed by talk of the heat, but it did little to impact the quality of the match despite reaching 32 degrees Celsius.
“I’m sure there is going to be a bit moaning about the heat, but Tokyo gets like this, Singapore is like this and once you understand that a team from Asia is going to play in Asia, [you know] it’s going to give you conditions like this,” Sunwolves coach Jamie Joseph said.
There were no complaints from Stormers coach Robbie Fleck either, who was effusive with praise about his side’s Hong Kong experience despite a loss that effectively puts an end to their finals hopes.
“It was a wonderful week, [today] was a great occasion, there was a good energy and a good feel,” Fleck said.
“They worked their way up the field and it was exceptional brilliance that won the game – well played,” he added about the Sunwolves superb finish.
It was a groundbreaking day for a number of reasons – it was the first time the Sunwolves have won two games in a row and their first win away from Tokyo.
The crafty Parker was in the action throughout, racking up 21 points and providing the killer blow from 30 metres out.
“We created history today,” Joseph said. “We’ve had some lean times, no doubt. But really we’re headed in the right direction and I think that’s really pleasing for the players.”
It was the Stormers who started the game the better, with their forward pack setting the tone and their backs benefiting from some questionable decision-making from the Sunwolves.
Dillyn Leyds notched a first-half double for the South Africans and JJ Engelbrecht also crossed as they opened up a 17-10 half-time lead, with Parker’s try and conversion the only joy for the Sunwolves.
But it was a different story after the break, with a try to second rower Grant Hattingh and more damage from Parker setting up a Sunwolves win for the ages.
“What actually happened in the second half is we changed and we saw a different Sunwolves team come out, we played a lot more direct, a lot more decisive, we played with a lot more confidence than we did in the first half,” Joseph said.