(Reuters) - Japan’s Sunwolves left their best until last on Saturday, riding a brilliant second half display in a Tokyo heatwave to crush the three-times champion Auckland Blues 48-21 in their final match of their second Super Rugby season.
Timothy Lafaele scored a hat-trick of tries as the Sunwolves fought back from a 21-5 deficit to earn their first victory over a New Zealand side in sweltering conditions that reached more than 40 degrees Celsius prior to the midday kickoff.
While both sides were out of playoff contention, the Blues had the eighth best points tally in the competition and were full of confidence, having beaten the British and Irish Lions in their last competitive match last month.
They also had the added incentive of sending off stalwarts Charlie Faumuina and Steven Luatua, who are heading overseas, and they came out firing as James Parsons, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti and Michael Collins all crossed inside the first 25 minutes.
The home side, who had conceded 142 points in their last two games, responded with some scintillating backline play and superb scrambling defence.
Keisuke Uchida reduced the deficit to 21-12 at halftime before the home side ran riot after the break as they capitalised on Jerome Kaino being sinbinned for a high tackle, adding a penalty try with Kaito Shigeno also going over.
The scoring surge helped the crowd become more and more involved, which seemed to give the Sunwolves added confidence.
Lafaele crossed twice more before Yoshitaka Tokunaga burst out of three tackles with less than two minutes remaining to complete the scoring after a pulsating second half performance in which they scored six tries.
It was the most tries they had scored in a game in their short Super Rugby existence, while the Blues were pilloried after the result.
Local media labelled the Blues as “woeful” and described it as “the worst performance” of the team’s existence, while television pundits in New Zealand struggled to find the words to describe their reaction immediately after the result.
“You can’t take anything for granted in this competition,” Blues coach Tana Umaga told the New Zealand Herald.
“They just wanted it more. That’s all down to attitude. At the contact area they challenged us there and their defence was relentless.
“It made us make errors. We lacked a bit of focus on our game and when you haven’t got the attitude right we get what we got today.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O'Brien