Japan League One Review

Japan League One Review

Division One – Dented Steelers

All Black Ardie Savea’s hopes of finishing his sabbatical with a Japan Rugby League One title took a major blow

after Kobelco Kobe Steelers dropped out of the top four following a 36-27 loss to third-placed Tokyo Suntory

Sungoliath in Hygo today.

Kobe’s defeat, which came off the back of two first half yellow cards, and the concession of four second half tries,

has allowed Yokohama Canon Eagles to jump above them on the standings after they beat Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo


Suntory lost centre Isaiah Punivai to a yellow card after just five minutes, but his countrymen Tiennan Costley and

Brodie Retallick returned the ‘favour’ by also being given 10-minute ‘breathers’ before a tight first period was


It ended with the visitors, who had dominated, ahead 8-6 thanks to the first of winger Seiya Ozaki’s two tries for

the afternoon.

The second, which was the ninth of the campaign for last season’s leading try-scorer, all but settled the contest,

after the match had opened up in the second period when the sides shared seven tries.

Despite soaking up plenty of pressure while short-staffed in the first half, Kobe wilted after the break, being prized

open twice during a decisive third quarter which saw backrower Tui Hendrik and Australian second rower Harry

Hockings cross in the opposite corners for tries.

Suntory hooker and skipper Kosuke Horikoshi’s 11th try of the season – six of which have come in the last five

matches – dampened any prospect of a Kobe revival, after the Steeler’s opening try of the afternoon on the hour

mark by backrower Amanaki Saumak had briefly raised their hopes.

While the home side did cut the gap to eight with 13 minutes remaining after former Sunwolves centre Michael

Little scored, Ozaki’s second try eased any Suntory nerves, with Japan international Timothy Lafaele’s injury time

try coming too late to even salvage a vital bonus point for Dave Rennie’s error-ridden side.

Kobe visit Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo on Sunday knowing anything, but a win will leave their semi-final destiny in

the hands of others.

They will be facing a home side who will confirm their playoffs’ spot if they win, moving closer after a dramatic 22-

20 win over Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay in this afternoon’s second match.

Brave Lupus had its ‘Crusaders connection’ to thank for their success, after flyhalf Richie Mo’unga converted the

80th minute try of his former Super Rugby teammate, ex-All Black centre Seta Tamanivalu, who had joined the

game with half an hour to play.

The banishment of the Spears’s Brave Blossoms backrower, Pieter ‘Lappies’ Labuschagne, for a professional foul, a

minute before the winning play added to the chaotic nature of the finish.

The All Blacks’ match-winning conversion overshadowed the try-scoring return of the 76-cap former Wallaby pivot

Bernard Foley, which appears to have come too late to hold up Kubota’s slide out of the playoff’s equation.

Last year’s leading point-scorer hadn’t featured since Christmas Eve, and his return looked as if it might be about

to revive his side’s fortunes after he scored a try in the first half to help his side to a 13-10 halftime lead.

The advantage could have been greater had Brave Lupus centre Yuto Mori not scored just before the break, and

the 25-year-old cut the gap again, after South African second rower JD Schickerling’s try four minutes after the re-

start had pushed the Spears ahead, 20-10.

Mori has scored five tries in the last two weeks, backing up a double in the last round against Ricoh with two

today, but his efforts looked as though they would be in vain until the frantic finish prized away a game in which

the Spears had never trailed, up until its’ last scoring play.

While there are still 20 points available, the defending champions trail fourth position by 11, with their seventh

loss of a disappointing season dropping them into the bottom half of the table, and it could yet get worse with the

semi-final chasing Kobe and Suntory among the sides they are still to play.

Yokohama ended what could be a pivotal weekend for the semi-final makeup holding all the cards in the race for

fourth – a win ahead of fifth-placed Kobe – after a workmanlike performance against the Black Rams, where they

overcame some stout first half resistance to ease to a 12-0 halftime lead, before dominating the third quarter to

make the game safe, closing out a 31-12 win.

Tries after the break by South African-born backrower Kobus van Dyk and centre Yusuke Kujimura added to the

first half scores of hooker Shunta Nakamura and backrower Naoto Shimada, establishing a 24-point lead that

Ricoh was never going to run down over the closing stages.

While the Black Rams did manage to cross the goal-line twice in the final 20 minutes, a 72nd minute try by

Yokohama winger Viliame Takayawa ensured a fruitful visit to the capital ended with a five-point reward for the

Eagles, by securing an invaluable try-scoring bonus point.

Shizuoka revved up for a big finish

Shizuoka Blue Revs added fuel to an unlikely late bid for the semi-finals after a comfortable 43-14 win over Mie

Honda Heat at Yamaha Stadium.

Honda hadn’t beaten Shizuoka in 12 attempts prior to yesterday and the Blue Revs quickly made sure that trend

wasn’t going to be altered, racing to a 31-0 halftime advantage, as they left their opponents gasping.

While the visitors were competitive in the second period: they scored two tries in the first six minutes after the

resumption, one by Springbok second rower Franco Mostert, and ‘won’ the half by two, the result was never in


The league’s leading try-scorer, Blue Revs winger Malo Tuitama, took the opportunity to add two more to his

total, which now stands at 14, two ahead of the Wild Knights’ Dylan Riley, who was also a double try-scorer during

the round.

It was the Blue Revs’ third win on the bounce following a hattrick of losses mid-season which looked to have

binned the year’s playoff aspirations.

With three of their remaining four matches against sides currently in the top four, the task of bridging the nine-

point gap between themselves and fourth remains a difficult one, but they may be starting to believe after the

compilation of their longest winning sequence since the then Yamaha Jublio (as the club was previously called)

went five-in-a-row at the turn of the 2020-21 season.

One place below, Toyota Verblitz also remain at long odds to reach the semi-finals, but Steve Hansen’s men do

retain a sliver of hope thanks to their seven-tries-to-four, 47-30, bonus point victory over Hanazono Kintetsu


The win, which was achieved without the services of their suspended All Black flyhalf Beauden Barrett, was not

without its edgy moments, with Kintetsu scoring the opening two tries of the afternoon, before closing to 28-25

early in the second period, after Verblitz had asserted their authority through the back end of the first half.

Winger Viliame Tuidraki scored two tries for Toyota, as did centre Charlie Lawrence, with the first of his pulling

Toyota clear in the run to the finish line.

All Black scrumhalf Aaron Smith also scored a try for Verblitz, his sixth of the season, on an afternoon that had a

sour finish for his international counterpart Quade Cooper, with Kintetsu’s Wallaby flyhalf being yellow carded in

the 83rd minute for dangerous play.

Brave Blossoms winger Semisi Masirewa – on the comeback after injury at the Rugby World Cup delayed his start

to the season – showed again what Kintetsu missed in his absence, picking up a double to take his return to four

tries from five appearances since he resumed playing at the start of March.

Saturday’s fourth match saw the first semi-finalist confirmed after the five-time champion Saitama Panasonic

Wild Knights ground down Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars 53-12 at Kumagaya.

The visitors, who’d conceded a whopping 182 points in the three most recent meetings between the teams,

initially looked as if they were going to make a game of it, striking back after the concession of two early tries with

two of their own, to trail 14-12 after 22 minutes.

That was where their resistance ended though, with the Wild Knights rounding out the first half with two

additional tries to lead 32-12 at the break, before holding their opponents scoreless in the second period while

they extended beyond 50 for the third time in four outings against the Dynaboars – 134 of the points having been

scored in 160 minutes of playing time this season.

Utility back Ryuji Noguchi and Brave Blossoms backrower Jack Cornelsen each scored against Mitsubishi for the

fourth game running, while Riley picked up two, taking the Brave Blossoms centre’s season total to 12, and

outright second on the individual standings.

Ominously for Saitama’s upcoming opponents, especially in the playoffs, Wallaby winger Marika Koroibete is

winding up to full speed as the business end of the season approaches.

Having been used as a strike weapon off the bench for much of the campaign to date, the 31-year-old Fijian

started against the Dynaboars and scored twice in the first half, doubling his try-scoring yield for the season.

Koroibete scored a hattrick in last season’s semi-final win over Yokohama.

Division Three – Conrad’s big day out

A remarkable 31 points from the evergreen South African Conrad van Wyk confirmed a return to Division Two for

Shimizu Corporation Koto Blue Sharks after a comfortable 46-22 win over Kurita Water Gush Akishima.

Relegated after last season, the Blue Sharks turned a few heads by recruiting the dual international Lima Sopoaga

to the cause, but despite injury hampering the All Black and Samoa flyhalf, such has been the excellence of the

36-year-old graduate of the Western Cape’s famed Stellenbosch University that a massive impact from the former

Super Rugby winner hasn’t been required.

Today’s tally included three tries, five conversions and two penalty goals, taking van Wyk’s total for the season to

143 points, 48 ahead of the next best in the section, Simon Hickie of the Hino Red Dolphins.

A former Lions (South Africa) representative in Super Rugby, the Blue Sharks’ fullback is also now the section’s

leading try-scorer too, scoring three of his side’s six, all in the first half, to lead the visitors to a 31-10 halftime

advantage, while taking his individual tally of tries for the season to 10.

Although Water Gush closed to 34-22 midway through the second period, the effort proved too much, and they

were finished off by two tries in the final 10 minutes.

The Blue Sharks’ success keeps the race for top spot alive for one more week at least, although it won’t make a

difference to the destiny of the title should the unbeaten Red Dolphins also better Water Gush when the section

resumes in two weeks.

Hino, who have a game in hand, require just four more points to be crowned champions, as they would edge the

Blue Sharks on differentials should the two end the season locked together on the point’s table.

Automatic promotion is now beyond Mazda SkyActivs Hiroshima but their hopes of qualifying for The

Replacement Battle by finishing third gained a major boost yesterday after they claimed city bragging rights for

the season by overpowering Chugoku Electric Power Red Regulions 43-22 in the third and deciding derby.

Coming off their shock draw with Hino last week, the Red Regulions had plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about

their chances, especially having edged their neighbours by one in the opening game of the series.

A strong second half by the SkyActivs made sure it was not to be, out-scoring their rivals by three-tries-to-one in

that period, and six-tries-to-three overall, to turn a 26-15 halftime advantage into an emphatic 21-point win.

Making just his fourth appearance of the season, centre Hayato Kanamaru scored two tries for the SkyActivs,

while hooker Kentaro Iwanaga smuggled his way across the goal-line twice for the Red Regulions.

The try-scoring double was the third from just eight appearances for the 28-year-old, whose insatiable appetite

for tries sees him ranked joint fourth on the individual standings in the division.

The loss rules out any chance the bottom placed Red Regulions had of making a late run to the Replacement

Battle as they now trail SkyActivs by 11 on the ladder with each having two matches left.

Japan Rugby League One Results - Round Twelve

Division One

Saturday April 6

Yokohama Canon Eagles 31, Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo 12; at Tokyo

Shizuoka Blue Revs 43, Mie Honda Heat 14; at Shizuoka

Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights 53, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars 12; at Kumagaya

Toyota Verlitz 47, Hanazono Kintetsu Liners 30; at Gifu

Sunday April 7

Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath 36, Kobelco Kobe Steelers 27; at Hyogo

Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo 22, Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay 20; at Tokyo

Division Three

Saturday April 6

Mazda SkyActivs Hiroshima 43, Chugoku Electric Power Red Regulions 22; at Hiroshima

Sunday April 7

Shimizu Corporation Koto Blue Sharks 46, Kurita Water Gush Akishima 22; at Tokyo

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