The Sunwolves conceded a Super Rugby record-equalling 14 tries as they lost 92-17 at the Cheetahs on Friday.
The Japanese newcomers realised the fears of many that doubted their ability to compete in Super Rugby as they were completely overwhelmed at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein, with wing Sergeal Petersen and No. 8 Paul Schoeman both collecting hat-tricks for the South African team.
The Sunwolves had put in some promising early-season performances to hold off the criticism, losing by just a point to the Cheetahs at home and by three points to the three-time champion Bulls.
They had no answer to the Cheetahs on Friday to crash to a seventh loss in seven games in their first season among the southern hemisphere’s best.
“At this moment we haven’t been able to achieve anything but in the future we want to do better,” Sunwolves captain Shota Horie said.
Despite taking an early lead through a penalty by playmaker Tusi Pisi, who was back in at No. 10 after being rested last week, the Sunwolves let in seven tries by halftime to trail 45-3.
Petersen completed his hat trick in the 74th minute, scoring between the posts after one of countless clean backline breaks by the Cheetahs.
Petersen went in under the bar again three minutes later but handed the ball back to Schoeman for the No. 8 to score. Schoeman burst clear down the left in the last minute to complete his hat trick against a ragged Sunwolves defence.
The Cheetahs scored the highest number of tries by a South African team in Super Rugby, and equalled the competition-record 14 tries by New Zealand’s Crusaders against the NSW Waratahs 14 years ago in 2002.
Skipper Horie said his Sunwolves team had wanted to pay tribute to the people of the Japanese city of Kumamoto, which has been shaken by two powerful earthquakes over the last two days.
“The people in Kumamoto must be struggling and having a tough time,” he said. “We wanted to give the people in Kumamoto courage and unfortunately we couldn’t do it.”