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.
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.
Man of the match: Malcolm Marx
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.
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 Steelers play some excellent running rugby 🔥— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) February 21, 2021
Brodie Retallick making the initial break here 😮 pic.twitter.com/YyJzRmXwEy
Big Brodie probably lucky to just see yellow here. pic.twitter.com/3MghUthEA7— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) February 21, 2021
Great offload from Taumua Naeata for Ben Smith’s first try in the Top League pic.twitter.com/cCvL0md6F0— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) February 21, 2021
Welcome to the Japanese Top League Beauden Barrett 👏 First game, first try ✅— StanSportAU (@StanSportAU) February 21, 2021
Mitsubishi Dynaboars v Suntory Sungoliath in the Japanese Top League is LIVE now on Stan Sport. pic.twitter.com/Xv52395aFQ
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.
View this post on Instagram