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.
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.
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.
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.