International stars shine in the opening day of the Japanese Top League

International stars shine in the opening day of the Japanese Top League

The Japanese Top League kicked off Saturday with five entertaining matches in the opening day of action. 

The opening game of the new season, saw the Shining Arcs breeze past Honda Heat claiming a 41-13 victory with former Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw not only scoring his first try for his new team but also starring with the boot. The action continued in Tokyo with the Panasonic Wild Knights storming to a 55-14 victory over the Ricoh Black Rams while the Kubota Spears thumped the Sanix Blues 43-17. 

Michael Hooper made his debut off the bench for Toyota Verblitz with him and former All Black captain Kieran Read helping Verblitz to a narrow 34-33 victory over Michael Leitch's Brave Lupus. Defending champions Kobe Kobelco Steelers rounded out the action with a 47-38 victory over NEC Green Rockets with Alex Goode making his debut for the Rockets. 

We take a look at all the action from the opening round.

NTT Communications Shining Arcs 41-13 Honda Heat

The Shining Arcs have a new halfback pairing and boy did they produce! Former Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw made his Top League debut against the Honda Heat alongside former Hurricanes pivot Fletcher Smith. The pair were in fine form on their respective debuts with both players dotting down in the opening game of the season. Laidlaw scored 12 points on his debut while Smith ended his game with 9.


Smith was the first on the board scoring inside the first six minutes of the match with Laidlaw's accurate boot putting the Arcs 7-0 up. Honda responded well with Paku Songi reducing the deficit to four points in the 12th minute before centre Masaki Fujisaki put the visitors in the lead with a try in the 18th minute. Songi added the extras and another penalty as they took a 7-13 lead after 25 minutes. However, it was one-way traffic from there as NTT took control of the game scoring 34 unanswered points.


NTT winger Yongheung Chang closed the gap to a single point with his try as Laidlaw failed to add the extras. The Scot notched his first try for his new club before the half time whistle has he threw a dummy close to the line in the 36th minute to dive over. His conversion gave the hosts a 19-13 buffer heading into the break. Laidlaw added a penalty to his tally 10 minutes into the second half before a yellow card to former Auckland Blues lock Jimmy Tupou threatened to derail their efforts.

However, Wallaby flanker Liam Gill continued the trend of NTT stars scoring on their debut as he found his way over the chalk in the 61st minute as NTT opened up a 14 point lead. A fast finish from the Shining Arcs saw them home with tries from Atsushi Yumoto and Hiroyuki Mezaki, both converted by Smith, secured the 41-13 result. 

There was also a debut for World Cup-winning lock Franco Mostert who joined Honda Heat from Premiership club Gloucester.

Panasonic Wild Knights 54-14 Ricoh Black Rams

Former England and British & Irish Lions lock George Kruis was in action for Panasonic as they kicked off their season with a convincing 55-14 win over Ricoh Black Rams. Also making his debut was former Wales centre Hadleigh Parkes who scored on his first competitive outing for the Knights. 

The side coached by former Crusaders and Wallabies boss Robbie Deans, the Knights were down early on as Keagan Faria got Ricoh off to a flyer dotting down inside the first minute of the game. The Knights hit back through a penalty from Japanese international Rikiya Matsuda and were in the lead after 22 minutes as Shunsuke Nonmaki dotting down. The Knights finished the half strongly with Brave Blossoms' scrumhalf Keisuke Uchida scoring in the 33rd minute with Matsuda adding the extras and a penalty as they lead 20-7 at halftime. 

Faria was at it again in the second half scoring his second try just 7 minutes. Shota Fukui restored the 13 point buffer for the Knights and extended the lead to 20 shortly afterwards with his second try. Brave Blossoms flyer Kenki Fukuoka sped past the Ricoh defence to further extend their lead after an hour before Itsuki Onishi edged the Knights closer to half a ton. With the result well and truly sealed, Hadleigh Parkes put the icing on the cake for his new side with his try on debut as he managed to hold onto a loose ball after a turnover from Craig Millar near the Ricoh line. Full Time: Panasonic 55-14 Ricoh.

Kubota Spears 43-17 Munakata Sanix Blues

A South African riddled Kuibota Spears side claimed a convincing 43-17 victory over Sanix Blues on Saturday. World Cup winning hooker Malcolm Marx made his debut for the side and was named man of the match as he scored two tries.
Former Wallaby pivot Bernard Foley got the ball rolling for the Spears scoring inside the first 10 minutes of the match with Sanix responding through a Tim Bennetts try in the 23rd. Foley added a further three points from the tee before Sanix were reduced to 14 men with Hiroshi Tashiro going to the sin bin just before the end of the half. The Spears capitalised with Takeo Suenaga scoring just before the break giving the Spears a 17-7 lead at half time.
The Spears came out firing in the second half with Marx scoring the first of his two tries in the 43rd minute. By the 52nd minute, Kubota were up 36-7 with Finau Tupa and Sione Teaupa dotting down for the hosts. Marx scored his second before the hour mark with Foley's conversion the final points added to Kuubota's tally. Two late tries, the first for Yuta Imamura and the second for Kohei Hamazato, saw Sanix finish strongly but by that stage the game was too far from their reach.

Toyota Verblitz 34-33 Toshiba Brave Lupus

Rivals Kieran Read and Michael Hooper became teammates for the first time in a competitive match as Toyota Verblitz edged Toshiba Brave Lupus in the game of the opening day. Verblitz enjoyed a wonderful start to the game with three tries inside the first 30 minutes of the clash.
Japan International Jamie Henry was the first on the board after a wonderfully worked lineout move saw him race in untouched. Lionel Cronje added the extras and it took just eight minutes to strike again, this time through Springbok fullback Willie Le Roux. Le Roux was quickest to react to the ball being out at the break down with Brave Lupus on the attack in the Verblitz 22. Le Roux pinched the ball from the ground and sped away to make it a 14-point game. 

Verblitz's set piece was firing in the first half and some nice interplay between the forwards saw them move into the Lupus 22. They quickly recycled the ball and it was Tongan Fetuani Lautaimi scoring out wide. Former All Black Matt Todd started the comeback for Brave Lupus as they quickly hit back after Lautaimi's five-pointer. A strong lineout drive saw Todd come up with the ball as Lupus slashed the deficit to 14 points. 

Lionel Cronje slotted a penalty either side of half time as they took a 20 point lead into the final half-hour of action. However, Todd Blackadder's side would not give up so easily as they fought back in the final 30 minutes of the match. A lovely offload from Tim Bateman saw Toshiba surge into the Verblitz 22.

The hosts conceded a penalty which Toshiba kicked to touch. Lupus managed to turnover the lineout but a knock-on gave Lupus another opportunity which they took brilliantly. Again it was Bateman at the centre of it as he drew in the Verblitz defence before dropping off a pass to Seta Tamanivalu to score on his Top League debut. 

Jack Stratton came off the bench for Toshiba to score in the 57th minute as Verblitz lead by just six points heading into the final 20 minutes of the game. However, Stratton's try was quickly cancelled out as Taichi Takahasi finished off a wonderful flowing attack with reserve hooker Ryusei Kato producing a great pass.

In the 69th minute, Toshiba looked to make a late run for the win as Sione Lavemai reduced Verblitz's lead to 12 points before Michael Leitch made it a 1 point game with an outstanding charge to the line. 

Despite the strong finish, Toshiba were unable to find a match-winning score as Verblitz held out for the 34-33 victory. 

Kobe Kobelco Steelers 47-38 NEC Green Rockets

The action was rounded out on Saturday with the defending champions running in seven tries in a 47-38 victory over NEC Green Rockets. Kobe handed former All Black Ben Smith a starting debut with fellow countrymen Brodie Retallick, Tom Franklin, Richard Buckman and Hayden Parker in the side while on the other side of the pitch, Alex Goode started in the 10 jersey for the Rockets.
Another fast start saw Ryoi Kamei scoring inside the first minute of the match with Goode's conversion making it 0-7 to the visitors. The lead was shortlived as Kobe showed their class scoring three tries in the 15 minutes that followed with Japanese International Isileli Nakajima scoring the 8th minute before Taumua Naeata and Tim Lafaele dotted down with Parker adding the extras on all three tries. 
The entertaining start to the game continued as former Cheetahs centre Benhard Janse van Rensburg scored in the 20th minute, Ryohei Yamanaka responding in the 26th for Kobe. Kobe finished the first half with 14 men after Jang Seokhwan was sent to the sin bin and the Green Rockets made the most of the advantage. Daikai Nakajima and Ryuta Iiyama scored before the break with Goode adding the extras as NEC trailed 28-26 at half time.
The second half rocketed into life much like the first with Ben Smith marking his debut with a try in the 43rd minute. The game died down somewhat over the next 20 minutes before Rakuhei Yamashita scored his side's five in the 63rd minute and Naeata the sixth in the 76th. 
NEC Green Rockets had the final say of the match scoring two late tries but the accurate kicking of Hayden Parker and the excellent attacking play from the defending champions meant that the game was well out of their reach by that stage.

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