The Sunwolves started their final season with an impressive 36-27 win over Rebels on Saturday in Tokyo.
This may be their last season in the SANZAAR competition, however, the Sunwolves are not bowing out quietly.
The Japanese side – steered by South African duo Rudy Paige and Garth April at halfback – outscored the Rebels five tries to four.
April scored one of his team’s tries and also added 13 points with the boot.
Paige, unfortunately for the hosts, limped off in the 58th minute. In Paige’s absence, the Rebels tried to stage a late comeback, however left it a little bit too late.
It is 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.
The hosts took the game away from the visitors in an attacking first-half, hanging onto the bulk of possession, leading 22-13 at the break to get the Japanese crowd roaring.
After Sunwolves co-captain Keisuke Moriya opened the scoring by crossing in the ninth minute, Matt Toomua hit back almost immediately for the Rebels with his first Super Rugby points since 2016.
But the Wallabies flyhalf was far from his dominant best after that penalty kick, missing two conversions, as he began life playing with Fijian international Frank Lomani.
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 and captain Dane Haylett-Petty on the scoreboard.
For the Sunwolves, former Brumby James Dargaville was among the try-scorers that also included wing Tautalatasi Tasi, April and Jaba Bregvadze.
Man of the match: There were a few standout performers in the Sunwolves. However, playing his way into Japanese hearts was the former Sharks man Garth April. The flyhalf dictated proceedings well with accurate kicking and he also made two try-saving tackles, thus our nod goes to Garth April.
Tries: Moriya, Bregvadze, Tasi, Dargaville, April
Cons: April 5
Tries: Rangi, Haylett-Petty, Kellaway, Deegan
Cons: To’omua, Hodge
James Dargaville, 14 Siosaia Fifita, 13 Keisuke Moriya (co-captain), 12
Ben Te’o, 11 Tautalatasi Tasi, 10 Garth April, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jake
Schatz (co-captain), 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Brendon O’Connor, 5 Michael
Stolberg, 4 Kotaro Yatabe, 3 Conraad Van Vuuren, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Mitch Jacobson, 21 Naoto Saito, 22 Shogo Nakano, 23 Johannes Engelbrecht.
Melbourne Rebels: 15
Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Billy
Meakes, 11 Andrew Kellaway, 10 Matt To’omua, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Isi
Naisarani, 7 Rob Leota, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Ross
Haylett-Petty, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Fereti Sa’aga
Replacements: 16 Steve Misa, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Luke Jones, 20 Michael Wells, 21 Richard Hardwick, 22 Theo Strang, 23 Andrew Deegan
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Shuhei Kubo (Japan), Tasuku Kawahara (Japan)
TMO: Minoru Fuji (Japan)
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