(AFP) - Japan's Sunwolves stunned the visiting Auckland Blues 48-21 on Saturday (July 15) to finish their second Super rugby season on a high note.
Boosted by a Timothy Lafaele hat-trick, the home side posted only their second win of the campaign, erasing a seven-point half-time deficit with a pulsating comeback as the New Zealanders faded badly in the blistering Tokyo heat.
The rampant Sunwolves, who won just one of 15 games in a chastening debut season in 2016, scored eight tries to three against an error-prone Blues side held scoreless in the second half.
Tries from James Parsons, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti and Michael Collins looked to have put the Blues in command before Keisuke Uchida capped a lightning attack to help keep the Sunwolves in touch at the break.
But from the moment Ryohei Yamanaka chased down a Kotaro Matsushima kick to score after 53 minutes, it was all Sunwolves.
Kaito Shigeno dived over as the floodgates opened, before Lafaele scored on a breakaway and completed his treble after charging down a Sam Nock kick close to the try line.
When Yoshitaka Tokunaga raced clear to score moments before the buzzer, even Sunwolves head coach Filo Tiatia wore a look of disbelief.
"One of the things we wanted to do this week was restore pride in the jersey," said 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."
Once Super Rugby powerhouses, the Blues ended their own lacklustre campaign with a record of seven wins, seven defeats and a draw.
"The players have to look themselves in the mirror," said Blues skipper Parsons.
"It's hugely disappointing and at the end of the day we didn't have the right attitude. Credit to the Sunwolves - they wanted it more."
The Sunwolves barely improved on their 2016 record in the southern hemisphere's elite club competition.
Their baptism of fire included a 92-17 mauling by the Cheetahs which prompted former Japan coach Eddie Jones to call the Sunwolves "embarrassing" and led to a warning from tournament organisers.
They opened their 2017 campaign with a crushing 83-17 home defeat by the Hurricanes and conceding 94 points to the Lions earlier this month also did little to help their cause, further underlining their struggles.