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Rugby: Sunwolves denied as visiting Waratahs sneak 1-point victory

The Sunwolves Hayden Parker makes a break during the Super Rugby match between the Sunwolves and Waratahs at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground on Feb. 23, 2019, in Tokyo, Japan. (Getty for SUNWOLVES/Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Sunwolves battled valiantly but ultimately suffered their second straight loss of the young Super Rugby season Saturday, defeated 31-30 by the New South Wales Waratahs in Tokyo.

A last-gasp drop goal attempt by Hayden Parker was all that stood between the home team and a win, but it flew wide in the stiff Tokyo breeze, sending a cry of angst around the healthy crowd at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.

Fleet-footed Wallabies superstar Israel Folau scored a double for the Waratahs, his fellow internationals Kurtley Beale and Jack Dempsey also crossing.

For the Sunwolves, Gerhard van den Heever answered with his own brace and Tom Rowe scored a five-pointer. Parker was excellent with the boot, kicking three penalties and three conversions.

Playing their second home game of the season, but the first in Tokyo, the Sunwolves started brightly, giving as good as they got in a competitive first half which they closed three points ahead.

After changing ends, however, the Waratahs -- Australia Conference champions and semifinalists last year -- showed their quality to sneak the win. The team's Wallabies platoon shone as they won for the first time this season and maintained their unbeaten record against the Japanese team.

The first highlight for the Sunwolves came on their own try line, Semisi Masirewa making a stunning try-saving defensive effort in which he came off his own wing to knock the ball out of Curtis Rona's grip as he dived for the left corner.

The Sunwolves converted their competitiveness into points thanks to an eighth-minute intercept by season debutant Ryoto Nakamura. The 27-year-old latched onto a wayward Bernard Foley pass on his defensive 22 and streaked downfield. He was eventually run down by the Waratahs' speedsters, but found van den Heever who touched down.

The home team's joy could not have been more short-lived, though, as on the ensuing kickoff return Shane Gates chipped the ball directly into Beale's arms and he ran away to cross untouched, the conversion by Foley leveling the score at seven.

The Sunwolves were next on the scoreboard via a Parker penalty goal, but not long after Folau put the Waratahs ahead when Karmichael Hunt set him up for an easy try to extend the Sydney team's lead to 12-10.

Folau went over again in the 29th minute, Masirewa undoing his earlier good work with some lackluster defending as the Wallabies fullback maestro waltzed down the right touchline.

Another Parker penalty cut the deficit to 17-13. And once more, Nakamura again set up a try for the Sunwolves. His offload put Tom Rowe into space and the big lock rumbled over between the posts. Parker converted to send the home team into the change room with a 20-17 lead.

Parker extended the Sunwolves' lead with a penalty goal four minutes into the second period. But another four minutes later the Waratahs' Jack Dempsey picked and drove his way over for a try, which Foley dutifully converted to restore the visitors' the lead, 24-23.

Referee AJ Jacobs handed the Waratahs a seven-point penalty try in the 61st minute, when the Sunwolves defense collapsed a driving maul on the try line. With the score 31-23, Jacobs then showed Luke Thompson yellow and sent him to the sideline for 10 minutes.

The Sunwolves refused to lay down, however, Parker laying on a superb inside ball to put van den Heever into space with his team still a man down.

The South African did the rest, putting on the afterburners to score with Folau on his back. Parker converted to cut the deficit to one.

Parker had a chance to play the hero late, but his field goal attempt hung in the air, the Tokyo wind blowing away the home team's hopes of a deserved win.

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