Japan League One Round 1 Review

Japan League One Round 1 Review

Division One – It’s the Fabulous Ozaki Brothers

Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath winger Seiya Ozaki began where he left off last term, while his younger brother Taiga

also got in on the try-scoring act, as Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath avenged last season’s triple defeat with a 52-26

battering of the playing through champions, Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay, at Prince Chichibu Stadium in the

Japanese capital today.

Seiya, who topped the charts with 18 tries last term, had his hattrick before halftime, while midfielder Taiga

scored a try in each half, as Sungoliath made no race of last season’s semi-final repeat.

While the Spears at least salvaged a bonus point by scoring three second half tries in a period they ‘won’ 19-17,

the damage had already been done, with Suntory having carved out a 35-7 halftime advantage after a blistering

first half performance.

The ease of victory gave Sam Cane a comfortably introduction to life in Japan, with the All Blacks’ Rugby World

Cup skipper getting through 57 minutes on his league debut.

Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights, who were conquered by the Spears in last year’s championship game, signalled

that they would be a contender again, dismissing last year’s third-placed side, Yokohama Eagles, 53-12 at


After a competitive first half, which saw the Wild Knights turn with a 22-12 advantage, the seven-time champions

blew the Eagles away after the break, running riot as they won the period 31-0 to complete an ominous start to

the campaign.

For the sorry Eagles, the ‘movie’ was one they had seen before, after conceding the second period of last season’s

semi-final between the two teams, 36-3. 

Former (Waikato) Chiefs backrower Lachlan Boshier scored two of the Wild Knights’ eight tries.

Pure Steel(ers)!

Having won just five from 16 last term, it would have been understandable had there been plenty of nerves

around Noevir Stadium yesterday as a new look Kobelco Kobe Steelers outfit began its quest to rise up the table.

With former Wallaby coach Dave Rennie overseeing his first game, All Black second-rower Brodie Retallick back at

the club as captain, as well headline signing and 2023 World Player of the Year Ardie Savea, all playing, much was

expected of a cast that had limped home ninth last season.

Boy, did they deliver.

After Retallick scored the opening try four minutes after kick off, and ex-All Black Ngane Laumape following suit six

minutes later, the home side had exactly the start they wanted, and kept the pressure on the newly promoted Mie

Honda Heat by taking a commanding 26-10 halftime lead.

And that was where things got dramatically worse for the visitors, who leaked a further eight tries in the second

period, with Retallick getting a second, Savea two as well in his first outing in Japan, while hooker Takuya Kitade –

who had joined the ‘party’ off the bench – ‘celebrating’ with a hattrick inside of the last 20 minutes.

A demoralising afternoon was made worse for the Heat by the second-half yellow cards to the on debut former

(Otago) Highlanders’ flyhalf Mitchell Hunt, alongside the ex-Japan Sevens winger Yoshikazu Fujita.

Kobe are at Shizuoka next where they will find a home side smarting after a 43-30 loss to Toshiba Brave Lupus

Tokyo, for whom Brave Blossoms winger Jone Naikabula stole the show.

On a day that was supposed to be about Toshiba’s introduction of All Blacks, flyhalf Richie Mo’unga and backrower

Shannon Frizell, Naikabula proved the headline act, scoring four tries, three of which came in the space of 14

second half minutes as Brave Lupus killed off the challenge of the Blue Revs, who had closed to 36-30 with 15

minutes to play.

Having scored the opening three tries of the game to lead 17-5 after the first quarter, the Blue Revs will justifiably

feel this was another one that got away, with even the customary try from Rugby World Cup winner Kwagga Smith

not enough to save the day.

The second half try by the Blue Revs’ skipper was his 16th from 23 league games in Japan.

Todd Blackadder’s Brave Lupus, for whom ex-All Black centre Seta Tamanivalu was a double try-scorer, will be

relieved to be underway with a win after they lost narrowly at Saitama on the first weekend of last season.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars coach Glen Delaney will also be a relieved man after his

English import James Grayson guided an 80th minute penalty goal between the sticks to beat a valiant Hanazono

Kintetsu Liners 30-29 at Kanagawa.

Former Wallabies Curtis Rona (Mitsubishi) and Will Genia (Kintetsu) were both try-scorers in a match where there

was an element of déjà vu for the visitors, who had lost by two points to NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu on the

opening weekend of last term, after missing a late conversion.

Only six points separated Toyota Verblitz and Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo across two meetings last season, and

Saturdays was another tight one, producing just three tries, and only three points in the second half, as All Black

recruits Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith tasted victory on debut for Verblitz, who prevailed 15-8.

After conceding two tries in the opening 12 minutes, the Black Rams received a bonus when the recent man-of-

the-match from the Rugby World Cup final, Springbok backrower Pieter Steph du Toit, was yellow carded after a

string of Toyota infringements.

Former England backrower Nathan Hughes scored during the South African’s absence, to close the gap to 12-8 at

halftime, but the Black Rams could get no closer, earning only a bonus point for their effort.

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