Japan Rugby League One 2023-24 Round Five Review

Japan Rugby League One 2023-24 Round Five Review

Division One – Malcolm Who?

The loss of serial try-scoring Springbok hooker Malcolm Marx to injury appeared fatal to the chances of Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay mounting a successful title defence, but All Black Dane Coles showed that the defending champions have landed a like-for-like replacement after scoring twice in his side’s dramatic 38-34 win over Kobelco Kobe Steelers today.
Looking for just their second win of the season, the Spears held their nerve in a see-saw contest, finally sealing the win with a try by South African-born centre Rikus Pretorius in the 79th minute, after the third change of lead in the second half.
Kubota remains without the injured Wallaby flyhalf Bernard Foley, and had Wales fullback Liam Williams withdraw pre-game, but South African-born fullback Gerhard van den Heever filled the breach admirably, with his goal- kicking the difference as Kobe fell to defeat for the second week in a row after out-scoring their opponents in tries.

Van den Heever finished with 18 points, which included four penalty goals, as he missed just once from eight attempts, to punish the home side.
While reigning World Rugby Player of the Year Ardie Savea scored his third try for the club, the defeat drops Kobe to eighth position on the table after three straight losses.
Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo remain unbeaten, and just one point behind Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights, after All Black flyhalf Richie Mo’unga scored his maiden try in Japan during a comfortable win 40-12 over Mie Honda Heat.
Today’s 15-point haul took the 29-year-old passed 50 points for the season, the fifth player in the league to do so.
The seven-time Super Rugby winner has 54 to date, five behind Brave Blossoms test star Rikiya Matsuda, who heads the table for individual scoring with 59.

Four of the six tries scored by Brave Lupus came in the first half, with star Brave Blossoms second-rower Warner Dearns and All Black centre Seta Tamanivalu touching down as the home side established a 26-5 lead.
The pre-match withdrawal of Beauden Barrett meant that the All Black versus Wallabies halves battle didn’t eventuate as Toyota Verlitz beat Hanazono Kintetsu Liners 47-14 in Osaka.
Even with Barrett sidelined, and his international scrumhalf colleague Aaron Smith withdrawn after 15 minutes, Toyota still held too many guns for Kintetsu, who showed plenty of fight to keep within range by trailing 21-14 after 30 minutes, before falling away from this point.
Japanese test winger Siosaia Fifita opened the scoring against his former teammates while fellow speedster Taichi Takahasi, who scored four tries for the Barbarians against Bristol Bears last year, also contributed to Toyota’s seven tries.
The win moves Steve Hansen’s men up to fifth ahead of their crunch match with Brave Lupus on January 27.

‘And It Was all Yellow...’

International backrowers Sam Cane (New Zealand) and Kwagga Smith (South Africa) were both yellow carded in an exciting contest at Yamaha Stadium on Saturday as the yellow clad Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath came from 15-5 down at halftime, scoring four second half tries to beat Shizuoka Blue Revs 29-25.
Cane, who had opened the scoring with his maiden try in Japan after five minutes, was despatched to the bin 32 minutes later for a dangerous breakdown cleanout, after Smith had received his marching orders six minutes earlier for accidental head contact from a collision, while his side was leading 10-5.
The teams traded tries in the second period, with the Blue Revs at one point leading 25-17, but they couldn’t hold on, with the quick feet of Springbok star Cheslin Kolbe scoring the penultimate try of the game as Sungoliath came back in the final 10 minutes to secure a valuable win.
Suntory remain five points behind the competition leading Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights, who hammered Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars 81-21, with Springbok second rower Lood de Jager marking his first outing since July by scoring one of his side’s 12 tries.
Saitama’s try-scoring was so widely spread that de Jager’s second row partner, Liam Mitchell, was the only player to cross the goal-line twice.

The home side was literally blown off the park in the first half as Saitama wreaked havoc in a near flawless display on their way to a 48-0 halftime lead, with Sagamihara’s three tries in the second period small consolation from a devastating defeat.
Saturday’s third match saw Yokohama Canon Eagles who, like Sungoliath and the Wild Knights will feature in next month’s Cross Border challenge series, produce a strong finish to beat Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo 24-8.
Trailing by a point at the break, Yokohama held the Black Rams scoreless in the second half, as winger Burua Inoke and centre Ryo Tabata scored tries to make the game safe, while also retaining the Eagles’ position in the competition’s semi-final slots.

Divisions Two & Three – D-Rocks Ride the 3-Way Highway

It couldn’t have been much closer in Saturday’s top of the table clash at Chiba, as Urayasu D-Rocks handed Toyota Corporation Shuttles Aichi their first defeat of the Division Two campaign.
So tense was the contest, neither side could score a second half point, with D-Rocks prevailing courtesy of a penalty goal kicked by their former Super Rugby flyhalf, ex-(Auckland) Blues player Otere Black.
Urayasu had opened the scoring when prop Shuhei Takeuchi scored, but Shuttles centre Hitoshi Matsumoto replied 12 minutes later to level the game.
The home side went ahead again, three minutes after the Shuttles’ try, when Black kicked his goal in what proved to be the final scoring play of the afternoon.
D-Rocks now lead the competition on the head-to-head record, as the Shuttles’ bonus point means that the teams are tied on 15 points.
NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu remain within striking distance after outclassing Red Hurricanes Osaka 48-13.
Following a competitive first half, where a try in injury time jumped the visitors out to a 17-6 advantage, the second period was one-way traffic as Wayne Pivac’s side ran in five tries to complete a comfortable victory, securing a try-scoring bonus point in the process.
Former Wallaby scrumhalf Nick Phipps and Namibian Rugby World Cup representative Tiaan Swanepoel were both try-scorers for the Green Rockets, the latter adding three conversions to finish his day with 11 points.
The newly promoted Red Hurricanes have conceded 119 points in the last two weeks, after having opened the season with two wins.
Ominously, they now face their NTT ‘stablemate’ Urayasu in the next round.

Division Three saw Mazda SkyActivs Hiroshima score a memorable 31-28 win over Shimizu Corporation Koto Blue Sharks in Tokyo, with hooker Tomohiro Takeda the game’s individual star for his two tries.
The 27-year-old scored the first and fourth of the visitor’s five tries, as they rallied after trailing 28-19 entering the final quarter of the game.
Arguably the SkyActivs finest win in Japan Rugby League One to date, it came a week after the side had been beaten by 41 points hosting Hino Red Dolphins.
The SkyActivs are up to second behind Hino, who were awarded a walkover win, after Chugoku Electric Power Red Regulions were forced to withdraw from their fixture due to a covid outbreak within the team’s ranks.

No, Not Again!: If doubts are starting to creep into the Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars camp, it’s understandable. While Saturday’s 60-point tonking from Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights was a disaster, bad days happen. The problem for the Dynaboars was that it was the third bad day at the office on end, tipping the side dangerously towards a repeat of last season’s great fade where, after opening with three wins from their first four games, the campaign slowly sank, to the extent that they won just once in their last 10 and ended up in the Replacement Battle. Coach Glen Delaney and his men can take solace from the fact that they were highly competitive in their 14-point loss to Toyota Verblitz, and the five-point defeat by Yokohama Canon Eagles. And while that wasn’t the case on Saturday, with the way Saitama are playing, it won’t be the last hiding they administer to an unfortunate opponent this season. Even so, the message for Sagamihara from the carnage is clear: keep defending like that and this blow out won’t be the last for a side that has already conceded scores of 54, 40 and 81 on its last three afternoons of duty.

How Do You Halt Hino?: They might have dropped down a division but the return of the Hino Red Dolphins to Japan Rugby League One, after they exited a quarter of the way through last year’s competition, could not be going more smoothly. The weekend’s default win, due to the Covid outbreak at scheduled opponents Chugoku Electric Power Red Regulions, saw Hino awarded the match by a 21-0 scoreline. This extended the Red Dolphins’ unbeaten run to four, although the 21-0 unanswered points was below their average, with the points scored in the three games they have played coming at an impressive 42 per game. Having beaten the second-placed Mazda SkyActivs Hiroshima 61-17 a week ago, is the Division title Hino’s to lose?

Closing in on Cross Border: There are just two games in Division One next weekend as Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath and Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights complete their on-field preparations for the upcoming Cross Border matches against the (Auckland) Blues and Gallagher (Waikato) Chiefs respectively. In a first, the two Super Rugby sides will play their Japanese hosts on February 3, with Sungoliath tackling the Blues while the Wild Knights take on the Chiefs. Sungoliath’s final hit out before Cross Border is next Saturday against Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars, while the Wild Knights are at home to Mie Honda Heat. The other matches of the round will be completed on February 27. There are no games in Division Two, while Division Three also has a split round, with the Shimizu Corporation Koto Blue Sharks match against Kurita Water Gush Akishima the only game next weekend.

For brief highlights from all matches in round five, please visit: https://league-one.jp/en/video 

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