NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – Japan's Sunwolves stunned the Waratahs on Friday for only their second away victory ever, and first in Australia, as the Crusaders emphatically bounced back from a rare Super Rugby loss to crush the Hurricanes.
It was a timely message from the struggling franchise, which a week ago learned it would be axed at the end of next season as the sport's bosses revert the competition to 14 teams.
Winger Semisi Masirewa bagged a hat-trick of tries and Hayden Parker booted five goals as Michael Hooper's men were beaten 31-29, bringing them crashing back to earth after upsetting the reigning champion Crusaders last week.
In Wellington, All Blacks skipper Kieran Read marked his first game of the season by overseeing the Crusaders in a 32-8 romp with normal service resumed after their 19-match win streak was ended.
Playing in Newcastle, north of Sydney, for the first time, the Waratahs raced to an early two try lead and looked to be in charge before the Sunwolves showed their resolve and battled back.
"It's been a tough couple of weeks on the field and off but the boys just put it behind them and dug deep tonight," said Sunwolves skipper Dan Pryor.
"I said to them 'keep working, keep working' and it paid off."
Hooper admitted his team didn't play well enough.
"We settled into a pace that wasn't world class standard and I'm very disappointed," he said.
The last time the Tahs faced the Sunwolves in Australia, in 2018, they won 77-25.
But it was a much closer affair in Tokyo in February when they scrapped home 31-30, showing how much progress they have made.
The Tahs didn't waste time getting on the scoreboard with Nick Phipps crossing after barely 90 seconds on a well-worked play from a line-up with Hooper breaking free and offloading to the scrum-half.
They got their second on 14 minutes with Cam Clark powering down the left wing after some clever play by Kurtley Beale released him into space.
But sloppy defence from Beale allowed big No.4 Grant Hattingh to slip his tackle and claw a try back and when Masirewa scored after a wonderful wrap-around pass from Hendrik Tui, the Tokyo-based team took a 17-15 lead into the break.
Hooper crashed over from close range soon after the restart as the Waratahs came out firing before Masirewa swallow-dived over in the corner after sprinting from own 22. He got his third when Karmichael Hunt fluffed a pass and he picked up the loose ball.
Beale pulled one back to narrow the score to 31-29 with 10 minutes left but the Japanese team hung on for a famous win.
The Crusaders' scoreline included a double for David Havili in a match which saw Read start but sit out the second half with an apparent thigh strain.
"We looked at ourselves pretty heavily, our decision-making and how we play," Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said after last week's loss.
"I thought tonight we controlled the ball better and it allowed us to play when we wanted."
The Hurricanes dominated the early exchanges but the Crusaders scored the first try when Will Jordan chased down Bryn Hall's cross-field kick in the corner.
Winger Havili then gathered his own kick after Hurricanes defender Ben Lam fumbled his catch, to cross for the Crusaders' second.
Ngani Laumape pulled one back for the Hurricanes but a Richie Mo'unga penalty gave the Crusaders a 17-8 half-time advantage.
Havili scored his second soon after the restart and Braydon Ennor added another as the Crusaders took control, with a Mo'unga penalty sealing the win.AFP