Test Stars Light Up The Opening Round Of The Top League

Test Stars Light Up The Opening Round Of The Top League

Suntory Sungoliath and Panasonic Wild Knights lead the way in their respective conferences after the opening round of the Top League.

Panasonic claimed a comprehensive 55-14 victory over Ricoh Black Rams while Suntory thrashed Mitsubishi 7-75 with Beauden Barrett controlling things at first five. Defending champions Kobe claimed a comfortable 47-38 victory over NEC Green Rockets while Steven Hansen's Toyota Verblitz claimed a narrow 34-33 win over Toshiba Brave Lupus - captained by Michael Leitch.


We recap the opening weekend of action with highlights and reports from each of the opening nine games.

Panasonic Wild Knights 54-14 Ricoh Black Rams


Man of match: Rikiya Matsuda

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

Man of the match: Malcolm Marx

A South African riddled Kubota Spears side claimed a convincing 43-17 victory over Sanix Blues on Saturday. World Cup-winning hooker Malcolm Marx marking his debut for the side with a brace in a man of the match performance.
 
 
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

 

Man of the match: Taichi Takahashi

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

 
 
Man of the match: Kenta Tokuda
 
 
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. 
 
 
Brodie Retallick was at the heart of the second try breaking through the defence resulting in the five-pointer for Taumua Naeata. The All Black second row was however sent to the sin bin for a dangerous tackle soon after.
 


 

 
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.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Man of the match: Ei Kawamukai
 
 
Another closely fought match with Johan Ackermann's Red Hurricanes edging Canon Eagles. TJ Perenara made his first appearance in the competition and found his way to the tryline after replacement forward Toru Sugishita spotted a gap in the defence around the ruck and sped through with the All Black following up perfectly to receive the pass and score. 
 
 
 
An early yellow card to Hiroshi Kitajima did not impact the Red Hurricanes too much as they managed to edge in front through the boot of Ei Kawamukou in the 17th minute of the match. Former Sunwolves winger Hosea Saumaki finally got the Eagles on the board with a barnstorming run down the tocuhline with the accurate boot of Yu Tamura making it 7-3 after half an hour of action. Kawamukou made it a one-point game in the final eight minutes of the first half. Springbok centre Jesse Kriel powered his way over the line after some neat interplay with Michael Bond as the Eagles led 14-6 at half time.
 
 
The two sides traded blows early on in the second half with neither adding to the scoreboard until Jan de Klerk was sent to the sin bin. The Red Hurricanes quickly made the most of the advantage with TJ Perenara diving over the chalk making it a one-point game once again. Tamura added a penalty soon after. 
 
Two quick tries from the Hurricanes saw them take the lead with the first coming from a quick tap at a penalty from TJ Perenara who sent flanker Jiyoung Lee in for the try in the 66th minute. Two minutes later and they were in again with Perenara throwing a lovely skip pass out to centre Ben Saunders who sent it out wide to Kouki Shigeno.
 
The winger took his chance superbly beating Jesse Kriel on the cover defence and dot down. Ryuta Yasui put the Eagles back in front in the 77th minute with Jumpei Ogura adding the two points to lead by just one in the final minutes of the game. 
 
 
The Hurricanes were awarded a penalty in the final moments of the game and man of the match Ei Kawamukou stepped up to knock the ball over the posts and secure the victory for Ackermann's charges. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Man of the match: Tevita Li
 
 
It was one-way traffic between Mitsubishi and Suntory as Beauden Barrett made his Top League debut with a 21-point haul in the 7-75 thrashing. Fellow Kiwi Tevita Li continued his incredible strike rate in the Top League with his five tries against Mitsubishi taking his tally to 11 tries in just six matches of Suntory.
 
 
The men in yellow ran in 11 tries to Mitshubishi's 1 with Barrett knocking over 8 of his 9 shots at goal. The All Black playmaker scored a try and ran the attack wonderfully to set up tries for the likes of Li, Samu Kerevi, Yutaka Nagare, Shogo Nakano and Seiya Ozaki. 
 
 
Hikaru Tamaura replaced Barrett in the final 20 minutes of the match and slotted his two conversions to complete the one-sided affair.
 
 

Suntory next face Honda Heat who were humbled by the Shining Arcs with Barrett's biggest test in the competition likely to come in round 4 and 5 with clashes against Toshiba Brave Lupus and Toyota Verblitz respectively. 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 Man of the match: Malo Tuitama

 

 2019 Rugby World Cup champion Kwagga Smith was lively in Yamaha Jubilo's victory over the Hino Red Dolphins on the final day of round one. The South African was an effective ball carrier beating multiple defenders as his side started their campaign with a comfortable win.

It was all Yamaha in the opening stages, particularly after the Dolphins were reduced to 14 men with Dinesvaran Krishnan sent to the sin bin. Hironori Yatomi and Australian Fred Fewtrell both found their way over the whitewash to set up a 14-0 lead at half time despite Uwe Helu also going to the bin just before the break. 

The Dolphins managed to get on the scoreboard early in the second half with Syo Kataoka scoring four minutes into the second stanza. It didn't take too long for Yamaha to hit back with Fewtrell notching up his second try on his debut with Sam Greene adding the extras. 

 

Greene's try extended the lead to 23 with Kiyohara's conversion before a five-minute brace from Malo Tuitama effectively secured the results for Jubilo. Augustin Pulu managed to grab two tries for the Dolphins either side of Malo Tuitama's hattrick score but Yamaha would have the final say as Fewtrell completed his hattrick in the 79th minute. 

 

         
       
         
       

     

 
 
 
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