A look at round four in Japans Rugby League One

A look at round four in Japans Rugby League One

Division One – Spears Slide Continues Things aren’t getting any better for Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay. Today’s 24-20 loss to Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo has left the defending champions languishing ninth on the competition ladder with an increasingly large margin opening between themselves and the current top four.

That group includes Toshiba whose fourth win of the season retains second place on the competition table, one point behind the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights. While maiden Japan Rugby League One tries from Kubota’s new recruits, All Black hooker Dane Coles, and Wales fullback Liam Williams, bookended their performance, the defending champions fell behind to two first half tries by the Brave Lupus pair of scrumhalf Yuhei Sugiyama and fullback Takuro Matsuaga, with the accurate boot of All Black flyhalf Richie Mo’unga ensuring they stayed there.

Although the All Blacks’ afternoon ended six minutes early due to a yellow card for dangerous play, setting up a frantic finale when Williams scored to close the gap to four, the Michael Leitch-led Brave Lupus did enough to see the game out, inflicting a first ever defeat on Kubota at their Edogawa base.

The Spears were not helped when their Wallaby flyhalf Bernard Foley pulled out before the game, although they were not let down by goal-kicking, with South African-born Japan international Gerhard van den Heever goaling three from three. Yokohama Canon Eagles also ended the weekend in the top four after last season’s semi-finalists edged Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars 40-35 in an entertaining contest, coming from behind to claim the spoils after trailing 22- 20 at halftime.

Sagamihara had made a brilliant start, and led 22-3 after the opening quarter, but lost that momentum, primarily due to the finishing skills of the Eagles’ exciting winger Burua Inoke, whose two tries before the break brought Yokohama back into the game. A breakout star during the Eagles’ return to the playoffs last term after a long absence, when he scored 13 tries from 15 appearances, the 24-year-old former Fijian age-grade representative has now scored four from as many appearances this season. While Inoke’s efforts gave Canon a foothold in the game, it was two tries in two minutes from another Fijian-born player, centre Viliame Takayawa, that allowed Yokohama to skip clear. Sagamihara kept battling, and gained a bonus point for finishing within seven when ex-Wallaby pivot Matt Too’mua kicked a penalty goal with four minutes to play, but the Eagles successfully negotiated the remaining time to seal the win. Too’mua had an interesting afternoon, scoring 15 points in his first outing for the season, which included a dropped goal, but he also received a yellow card for a professional foul, one minute before the end. Shizuoka Blue Revs had no trouble in the today’s third game, waltzing home 62-13 against an out-gunned Mie Honda Heat. With skipper Kwagga Smith scoring two tries, which took the South African Rugby World Cup winner’s career tally in Japan to 19 from 26 appearances, Shizuoka finished with 10 overall; hooker Takeshi Hino also grabbing himself a try-scoring double.

Heat were not helped by the first half yellow card awarded against their off-season recruit from Super Rugby Mitchell Hunt, for repeated team infringements, while they continue to miss the influence of their star player from last season’s promotion run, former Argentine captain Pablo Matera, who has yet to return from a leg injury sustained at the Rugby World Cup.

The Day the Toyota Wheels Fell Off A 27-5 lead just before halftime. A Rugby World Cup-winning coach and star international players calling the tune. That’s a sure thing, isn’t it?

It probably should have been, but wasn’t for Toyota Verblitz on Saturday, as Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights ran riot in the second period, swamping Steve Hansen’s men 35-0 in the final 40 minutes to record a spectacular 43-27 victory. The visitors were all over last year’s finalists for much of the first half, with All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith leading the way as Verblitz piled on four tries, the third scored by the New Zealand halfback, to romp to a 22-point advantage in the 39th minute. Saitama have a history of rising from the grave though, and they did so again, carving the Verblitz defence to pieces with five tries, two of which were scored by the Australian-born Brave Blossoms pair, backrower Jack Cornelsen and centre Dylan Riley. By the time the Wild Knights had finished, the record of having lost just once at their Kumagaya fortress since 2019 was intact, with the 43-27 victory maintaining their position at the top-of-the-table. It also sent out a warning to New Zealand Super Rugby side, the Gallagher (Waikato) Chiefs, who visit the Wild Knights on the first weekend of the Cross-Border series on February 3. Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, who also feature on the first weekend of that series when they host the (Auckland) Blues, were equally impressive as they came from 26-20 down at halftime to inflict back-to-back defeats on former Wallaby coach Dave Rennie’s Kobelco Steelers, winning the game 44-36.

With ex-All Black midfielder Ngane Laumape scoring his third try in four appearances for the season, Kobe outscored Sungoliath four-tries-to-two in the first half and wound up a try ahead on the count by game’s end, but it didn’t prove enough thanks to a super goalkicking performance by Suntory’s stand-in flyhalf Mikiya Takamoto. In the hotseat while Suntory’s Argentine international replacement Nicolas Sanchez prepares for his debut in Japan, the 22-year-old kicked at 100 percent, with his excellence off the tee proving the difference, given Kobe’s former Chiefs’ man Bryn Gatland missed three of his six attempts. After trailing by six at the break, Suntory upped the anti when play resumed, scoring the next 21 points, which included South African two-time Rugby World Cup-winner Cheslin Kolbe’s maiden Japan Rugby League One try. Down 41-26, Kobe managed two late tries, the first by skipper and All Black lock Brodie Retallick, but they fell one short of picking up a bonus point for finishing within seven. Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo collected the extra point on a dramatic afternoon at Yumunoshima, where Wallaby star Quade Cooper made his return for Hanazono Kintetsu Liners but was sinbinned after just 11 minutes as his side crashed to a 41-14 defeat

The 35-year-old flyhalf was marched as punishment for his side’s repeated infringements, and it proved a costly absence, as Ricoh scored three converted tries during his banishment to establish to a 21-0 lead. Former England backrower Nathan Hughes got things started with his third try of the campaign, while Queensland fullback Isaac Lucas scored in the second half as the Black Rams finished with six tries to crown their first win of the season with a maximum return. The defeat means Kintetsu has made a 0 from 4 start, conceding an alarming average of 46.5 points through those matches, a statistic ‘bettered’ only by Honda, who have leaked points at the disastrous currency of 63 per outing.

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