The Sunwolves failed to pick up their first win of the 2018 Super Rugby season Saturday as they fell apart in the second half to go down 24-10 to the Auckland-based Blues at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.
Leading 10-5 at the break, the hosts' inability to make one-on-one tackles and their indiscipline at the breakdown allowed the Blues to avenge last season's 48-21 loss.
And it left many wondering if the Sunwolves -- who are 0-7 for the season -- will be able to pick up a single win, given the schedule they have ahead of them.
(Sunwolves players walk on the pitch after a home defeat to the Blues)
"We handed the game back to the Blues and that's the disappointing thing," said Sunwolves coach Jamie Joseph.
In the second half, "we gave away penalties because we were over keen and individuals missed tackles that led to tries and created pressure."
The replacement of Kotaro Matsushima early in the second half summed up the problems facing Joseph.
"Missing tackles," was Joseph's response when asked why Matsushima was replaced.
"In the last three weeks he has been missing tackles that led to seven-point tries. Players need to take responsibility and make tackles and if they can't then they will be replaced."
The first half had seen a far better performance from the Sunwolves as their defensive system generally held firm, though Jordan Hyland's five-pointer on debut was a taste of things to come.
A well-worked try by Timothy Lafaele -- created by breaks from Grant Hattingh, Craig Millar and Hayden Parker -- had seen the Sunwolves take a 10-0 lead, Parker adding the extras after Yu Tamura kicked an early penalty.
But a turnover in the Blues' 22 in the 26th minute eventually saw Hyland brush aside a couple of weak tackles to make it a five-point game at the break.
Tokyo-born Akira Ioane and Dalton Papali'i then benefited from the hosts' apparent desire to avoid the thighs when trying to make a tackle as they crossed the chalk in the 49th and 54th minutes.
"Individual mistakes led to tries and created confidence for the Blues that they didn't have in the first 40 minutes," rued Joseph.
Forced to chase the game, the Sunwolves handling game fell apart and Hyland sealed the win in the 75th as he made it a debut to remember.
"In the first half we created a lot of opportunities but didn't finish them off," said Blues captain James Parsons. "In the second half, we got continuity and phases and finished them off."
Parsons said his side, which now has two wins from seven games this season, had been too passive at the breakdown in the first half "and that was the area of improvement that created the tries."
Joseph and his team head to New Zealand next week to play reigning champions the Crusaders before taking on the Hurricanes, the 2016 champions.
And Joseph knows there is much to work on.
While the line-out was much-improved thanks to the return of Hattingh, the scrum wilted under pressure and 36 missed tackles, plus numerous handling errors, ensured the Sunwolves finished the game with just 31 percent of possession to their name.
The only good news on Saturday for Joseph, who also coaches the Japan national team, was the 13-12 win by Japan A over the Highlanders A in Dunedin. The side that won in the south of New Zealand contains many Sunwolves currently deemed surplus to requirements.