Japan Rugby League One 2023-24 Round Eight Preview

Japan Rugby League One 2023-24 Round Eight Preview

Division One - Wild Knights’ Kryptonite

It doesn’t make a lot of sense, based on their recent finishing positions on the championship ladder. Yet sport, and rugby especially, doesn’t always make sense. Just ask Mauricio Pochettino or, in particular, talented Italian flyhalf Paolo Garbisi.
For whatever reason, Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights – current Japan Rugby League One log leaders, and six-time champions of Japan – always have trouble with Shizuoka Blue Revs.
Which is not a fact that will have escaped Robbie Deans and his men as they prepare for another trip to Yamaha Stadium, scene of last-minute escapes on each of their two most recent visits.
Then, of course, is their most recent meeting last season when the Blue Revs ransacked Kumagaya.
Their emphatic 44-25 victory ended not only five-years of post-pandemic supremacy at home, but a 47-game undefeated sequence at all venues by the Wild Knights.
Deans has never really ‘done’ revenge throughout his long and title-laden career, but the fact that he will take a powerful muster to Shizuoka says all that it needs to, ahead of a contest of immense importance for the competition leaders as their last hit out before meeting the only other unbeaten outfit in the league, Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo, in just over a week’s time.
Shizuoka, too, have an important stake in the outcome.
Having lost a ‘try-fest’ at Sagamihara last weekend, when a win could have catapulted them into the top four, the Blue Revs must regroup after that let down, and will be drawing on last year’s stunning success, as they bid to close the gap on the seven teams currently ranked above them on the championship ladder.

Saturday’s Shizuoka bout is one of several features as Japan Rugby League One returns to business as usual, with round eight the competition’s first full schedule of matches since the end of January when the league pushed the
pause button to cater for The Cross Border Rugby.
Yokohama Canon Eagles, who are in danger of losing touch with the semi-final positions, will be looking for a reboot when they open the weekend against bottom-placed Mie Honda Heat in a rare Friday night fixture.

With back-to-back losses to Kobelco Kobe Steelers and Toshiba Brave Lupus having dropped last year’s semi-finalists to seventh on a congested log, victory against one of the league’s two winless outfits is a non-negotiable to begin the process of recovering the lost ground.
Seven wins in as many starts means Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo have no such problems as, 24 hours later, they travel to the home of the second of the division’s winless outfit, Hanazono Kintetsu Liners.
Toyota Verblitz will also be in Osaka for a Sunday date with Kobelco Kobe Steelers which is shaping as one of the most important games of the season thus far. Fifth and sixth on the table, level on points, and with just three separating them on the point’s differentials, every statistic available suggests plenty of entertainment and a tight contest.
Division One’s other Sunday kick off sees Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay welcome Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars to Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium where history and form suggest plenty of
points are in store.
Kubota beat Mitsubishi 60-22 last term, with the sides sharing 11 tries.
They scored 16 between them just last weekend, with Sagamihara totalling seven during a mad-cap 53-45 win over Blue Revs where tackling appeared ‘optional’, while the Spears had nine to show from their afternoon
runaround with Kintetsu.
The defending champions entered the top four for the first time after last weekend’s win and will know the state of play on the point’s table once they begin, with third-placed Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath having engaged Ricoh
Black Rams Tokyo, the day before.
Valiant in defeat two weeks ago against old rivals, the Wild Knights, Suntory will be expected to beat a Black Rams outfit who fought bravely, albeit unsuccessfully, during last weekend’s 10-point loss to Kobe.
The two sides met once last term, and while that contest was close too, the omens are not good for Ricoh to claim just their second win of the campaign, with Suntory having prevailed 18-7 on that occasion.

Central to the Black Rams’ problems has been a lack of tries, and poor discipline, with the latter a recurring theme in recent seasons: only the bottom two have given away more than their 77 penalties, while only Honda has
scored less than their 17 tries.

Divisions Two & Three – Urayasu on Storm Watch

Urayasu D-Rocks last appeared three weeks ago, but they return to duty on Sunday facing their NTT Communications ‘stablemate’ Red Hurricanes Osaka, in the second edition of the league’s newest derby.
Their 45-15-win in the inaugural game came in a contest that was less comfortable than the scoreline suggests for the playing through Division Two champions, and the reigning Division Three champions will be primed after stretching second-placed Toyota Industries Shuttles Aichi last time out during a 24-15 loss.
D-Rocks will kick off knowing whether top spot on the standings is on the line, with the Shuttles – who trail Urayasu by one point – having played Kyushu Electric Power Kyuden Voltex a day earlier. NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu make the trip north to visit an inconsistent Kamaishi Seawaves in the section’s third tie, having conquered their hosts 61-17 in Tokyo at the start of the month.
Division Three leaders Hino Red Dolphins also suit up again, having not been sighted since February 11, when they welcome bottom-placed Chugoku Electric Power Red Regulions to Tokyo’s AGF Field.
With Hino unbeaten from five, with three try-scoring bonus points to boot, the task appears an uphill one for the visitors, who could be deflated after their agonizing five-point defeat in last weekend’s Hiroshima derby.
Saturday’s game was supposed to be the second meeting of the campaign between the two, but Chugoku bailed out of the first after a Covid outbreak at the club.
Hiroshima’s other representatives, Mazda SkyActivs, will be chasing second place when they visit Shimizu Corporation Koto Blue Sharks.
Two points separate the teams on the competition standings.
Both sides are coming off their third wins of the season, the SkyActivs having picked up one of those at the Blue Sharks’ expense, after a 31-28 success in Tokyo.

The Blue Sharks have been boosted by the return of All Black and Samoa international flyhalf Lima Sopoaga, who came off the bench last week against Kurita Water Gush Akishima, having not played since Christmas Eve due to injury. Sopoaga starts on the bench again but is expected to play a bigger role this time.

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