Japan’s Sunwolves claimed their first win over New Zealand opposition with a stunning 48-21 upset of the Blues in Tokyo.
The Sunwolves had conceded 146 points in two defeats in South Africa this month but finished their second season in Super Rugby in some style, boosted by a Timothy Lafaele hat-trick
The victory was only their second of the season and third since joining Super Rugby at the start of the 2016 season.
They looked to be on the end of another hiding when Auckland strolled into a 21-7 lead inside 27 minutes at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, James Parsons, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti and Michael Collins crossing for converted tries.
But the Sunwolves came out inspired at the start of the second half, given some momentum just before the break when Keisuke Uchida capped a lightning attack with their second score.
And the floodgates opened after Ryohei Yamanaka chased down a Kotaro Matsushima kick to score after 53 minutes, with four further tries coming in the final 25 minutes.
Kaito Shigeno dived over before Lafaele took command, adding to his first-half try with two more scores to complete his treble.
Yoshitaka Tokunaga raced clear to score moments before the final whistle by when even Sunwolves head coach Filo Tiatia wore a look of increasing disbelief on the sideline at the performance his side was putting up.
“That’s one of the best performances I’ve seen from this team,” Tiatia said. “We were resilient and competitive for the full 80 minutes. It just speaks volumes of the players.”
“One of the things we wanted to do this week was restore pride in the jersey,” added Sunwolves captain Willie Britz.
“All the boys did an amazing job today. We knew if we wanted to win we had to put the Blues under pressure and the boys all stepped up.”