Melbourne Rebels’ Super Rugby campaign has kicked off in horror fashion, losing 36-27 to perennial battlers the Sunwolves in Japan.
Despite a late comeback, the new-look Rebels left their run too late in Fukuoka against a team that is being booted out of the competition at the end of this season.
It is the first time the Sunwolves have won the opening game of a season and just their ninth overall victory in their fifth campaign.
Melbourne won all five previous meetings against the Sunwolves.
The hosts took the game away from the visitors in an attacking first-half, hanging onto the bulk of possession, leading 22-13 at the break to get the Japanese crowd roaring.
After Sunwolves co-captain Keisuke Moriya opened the scoring by crossing in the ninth minute, Matt Toomua hit back almost immediately for the Rebels with his first Super Rugby points since 2016.
But the Wallabies five-eighth was far from his dominant best after that penalty kick, missing two conversions, as he began life playing with Fijian international Frank Lomani.
They are the Rebels’ new halves pairing following the off-season departures of former Wallabies Will Genia and Quade Cooper.
Former Australian under-20 captain Andrew Kellaway scored a sensational chip-kick try in the second-half, joining Rebels teammates Anaru Rangi and captain Dane Haylett-Petty on the scoreboard.
For the Sunwolves, former Brumby James Dargaville was among the try-scorers that also included winger Tautalatasi Tasi, Garth April and Jaba Bregvadze.