Highlanders wing Tevita Li dives over for one of his two tries against the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Friday. Photo: Franck Robichon/EPA

TOKYO – The Highlanders routed the Sunwolves 52-0 with eight tries, forcing the Japanese side to suffer their first ever scoreless defeat since they joined the southern hemisphere’s elite club competition in 2016.

Tom Franklin dived over for the opening try with a neat pass from All Black Aaron Smith, initiating the Highlanders’ furious offence at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo.

The Highlanders never let up their attack throughout the game, while their powerful defence thwarted the Sunwolves’ desperate attempts to score.

“Forward players really stood up today,” Smith said. “We had a good game, and we are very happy.”

Fumiaki Tanaka of the Sunwolves apologised to the local crowd for the miserable defeat in light rain.

“I’m really sorry,” Tanaka said. “I realised that we are still not well skilled.”

The Highlanders, who snapped a five-match losing streak in the previous game, improved their record to four wins against five defeats.

The Sunwolves, axed from Super Rugby from the end of next season, have now lost eight games and won just two.