HAMILTON – The Sunwolves pulled off the biggest upset of their brief Super Rugby life with an historic 30-15 victory over the Chiefs Saturday as the dominant Crusaders continued their relentless unbeaten march.
It is the first time the Tokyo-based unit have won an away game and it left the 2012-2013 champions embarrassed as they remain winless after three rounds.
In Brisbane, the defending champion Crusaders powered to their 18th consecutive victory with a hard-fought 22-12 win over the Queensland Reds despite All Blacks Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Ryan Crotty and Codie Taylor being rested.
A year ago, the Chiefs thrashed the Sunwolves 61-10 as the Japanese side went through their first three seasons of Super Rugby with a woeful record and their future in the competition in doubt.
But they showed signs of progress when they went within a point of upsetting the Waratahs last weekend, and against the Chiefs they stepped up another gear.
They led 23-3 at half-time and held on as the Chiefs tried to rally.
Sunwolves flyhalf Hayden Parker, who converted all three tries and added three penalties, described the victory as "awesome" and a confidence booster.
"It was really nice to score some good tries in the first half. The second half was pretty ugly and it felt like the game went on forever but the boys hung in and I'm proud of the way we stuck it out to the end," he said.
Chiefs scrum-half Brad Weber said his side could not expect to win making so many errors.
"But you have to take your hat off to the Sunwolves," he said. "Their speed of ball and the way they were able to break tackles was pretty special and we have to take a hard look at ourselves because it was pretty embarrassing."
Flanker Shuhei Matsuhashi and lock Uwe Helu scored tries as the Sunwolves dominated the first half.
The Chiefs' sole points in the opening stanza came from a Damian McKenzie penalty. He also set up their first try at the start of the second half with a chip kick for Alex Nankivell to run on to.
But despite dominating possession and territory they could not sustain the pressure and weak defence saw Gerhard van den Heever score a third try for the Sunwolves before Etene Nanai-Seturo added a late one for the Chiefs.
In Brisbane, the Crusaders were a class above the Reds, who have now lost all seven games against the New Zealand powerhouse since they beat them in the 2011 final.
"Defensively we were pretty good and we scrambled well and were able to force some turnovers from the pressure," said Crusaders skipper Matt Todd, whose side has won eight in a row away from home.
"It's tough play to come over here and get the win. It was a step up from last week and we're building nicely."
Reds captain Samu Kerevi admitted the Crusaders deserved the win, saying: "We just didn't finish our plays and hold onto the ball."
The Reds have now lost their opening two games with their night further soured by highly-rated young fullback Jordan Petaia hobbling off with a foot injury after 15 minutes.
The Crusaders opened the scoring after six minutes following an impressive build-up with Jack Goodhue's cross-field kick finding Braydon Ennor in acres of space.
A second try came virtually from the restart with debutant Will Jordan running almost the length of the field as they turned on the style.
But it wasn't classic Crusaders and the Reds broke through two minutes before half-time when Kerevi dived over the line and with a successful conversion the visitors went to the break with just a 10-7 lead.
Two tries from lineout drives in the second half, to Whetukamokamo Douglas and Jordan Taufua, put them firmly back in control before Scott Higginbotham got a late consolation try for the Reds.AFP