Japan Rugby League One Round 11 Review

Japan Rugby League One Round 11 Review

Division One – Brave Lupus Nearly ‘Rammed’ in a Sunday Thriller

A comfortable Sunday afternoon it was not for Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo, who needed a try six minutes from time by centre Taichi Mano to finally quell a Nathan Hughes-led storm as Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo came close in today’s 40-33 defeat.

Despite two first half tries by their ex-England backrower, an upset in Tokyo seemed unlikely after All Black back- rower Shannon Frizell scored his eighth try from just 11 games in Japan Rugby League One to extend the second-placed Brave Lupus to a 33-14 halftime advantage.

It all changed early in the second half when back-to-back yellow cards to All Black flyhalf Richie Mo’unga as well as hooker Mamoru Harada, both for professional fouls, left Brave Lupus down to 13 and the Black Rams sniffing an opening.

By the time Mo’unga returned, Ricoh had levelled things up, with Australian fullback Isaac Lucas and Fijian winger Netani Vakayalia both having scored while their opponents were short-staffed.
Matt McGahan missed the conversion of the Vakayalia try and it remained 33-33 for 16 minutes before Mano rescued the four-competition points for Brave Lupus, taking them another big step towards the playoffs.
Kobelco Kobe Steelers also renewed their semi-final drive after a 60-17 trouncing of Hanazono Kintetsu Liners in today’s Kansai Derby.
Having upset Kobe in the corresponding game last season, Kintetsu gave themselves the chance of a repeat when a try by winger Joshua Nohra 13 minutes into the second half closed the Osaka-based side to 22-17.
That was before their collapse came, and it was a dramatic one.

After scoring three tries before Nohra crossed, Kobe added a further six in the remaining 25 minutes, with fullback Kanta Matsunaga and backrower Amanaki Saumaki both securing doubles, while flyhalf Bryn Gatland kicked 20 points to extend his lead at the top of the individual points rankings for the season.
The last of the nine goals kicked by the former (Waikato) Chiefs player from Super Rugby allowed him to crack the 150-mark, 10 ahead of his nearest challenger, Brave Blossoms flyhalf Rikiya Matsuda.
The bonus point win lifted Dave Rennie’s men into outright fourth on the championship table, and seemingly in a head-to-head race with Yokohama Canon Eagles to secure the last semi-final berth.
Sagamihara, whose momentum had taken a hit in recent weeks due to heavy defeats by Kobe and Brave Lupus, recorded their fifth win of the season while denying Mie Honda Heat back-to-back wins, following a narrow 31-26 success in the third match of the afternoon at Suzuka.
The Dynaboars led 14-8 at halftime but could never completely shake off Heat, who twice led, before All Black backrower Jackson Hemopo’s try, 15 minutes before the end, edged the visitors ahead for the final time.
A yellow card, seven minutes from fulltime, that was awarded against Sagamihara’s flyhalf James Grayson, made for a nervous finale, but while the third penalty goal of the afternoon by the Englishman’s Honda counterpart Gwante O closed the gap to five, Heat were unable to find the match-winning score.

Wild Knights Almost There, Spears & Verblitz Almost Done

Friday night saw the unbeaten Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights move to within four points of semi-final qualification while leaving the title defence of Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay teetering, after the league leaders handed out a 55-22 spanking to their grand final conquerors of last term.
The Spears’ fate was effectively sealed in the 25 minutes leading up to halftime when the Wild Knights ran in four tries to charge to a 26-3 lead, with two-time Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok Damien de Allende opening the scoring after a bust from 40 metres out, while the Australian-educated centre Dylan Riley also got in on the act, collecting an intelligent chip from his Brave Blossoms’ colleague Matsuda for the first of his two tries.
While Kubota had performed a miracle escape the week before, scoring two tries in the final three minutes to beat Yokohama, there was no reprieve this time, as the victor’s scored again three minutes after the re-start, piling on a further 29 second half points to exact an emphatic revenge for their defeat in last year’s decider.

Riley, who has now scored 26 tries in 40 Japan Rugby League One games, finished the night on 10 for the season, just two behind this year’s front-runner, Shizuoka winger Malo Tuitama.
The 18-cap Brave Blossoms centre was joint top try-scorer in the maiden edition of the league, two years ago.
Tuitama failed to add to his total in Shizuoka Blue Revs’ 24-8 wet weather win over Toyota Verblitz, which may have consigned Steve Hansen’s men to another season outside of the playoffs.
The game started badly for the visitors when Beauden Barrett was yellow carded in the fifth minute for an around the neck tackle on a try-bound Shizuoka winger Keagen Faria, which saw the All Black flyhalf binned, while conceding a penalty try in the process.
Toyota never recovered, falling behind 16-3 at the break, before scoring their only points of the second period with just six minutes to go, and the cause already lost, when the ex-(Otago) Highlanders second rower Josh Dickson dived over in the corner for the visitor’s sole try.
Verblitz were fortunate their margin of defeat wasn’t even uglier, with dual international Charles Piutau twice having tries disallowed for knock ons in the lead-up with the conditions making ball handling difficult.
Flyhalf Sam Greene kicked 12 of Shizuoka’s points, as the Blue Revs moved above Toyota on the ladder, leaving the former All Black coaches’ charges in trouble, 10 points astern of the semi-final positions with five games to play.
Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath remain third after a remarkable afternoon in the capital where the contest mirrored their dramatic victory over Toyota a week ago, only in reverse.
Having overhauled a 21-point halftime deficit to beat Verblitz with an injury time score, Suntory were felled in a similar manner, going down to an 83rd minute penalty goal from a wide angle by the composed Yokohama Canon Eagles flyhalf Yu Tamura, to complete the surrender of the 25-point advantage they had had at the midway point.
Sungoliath scored five tries in the first half, including one from their returning Springbok winger, Cheslin Kolbe.
Four were long-range efforts, as they repeatedly shredded the Eagles to romp to a 35-10 halftime lead, with the points all coming in a 23-minute burst before the break, after Yokohama had struck early to lead 10-0.
Whatever the message was that Yokohama coach Keisuke Sawake gave to his players once they returned to the sheds, it worked as the Eagles held Sungoliath scoreless in the second 40 minutes, while running down the deficit.

Yokohama was aided by the faultless boot of the 70-test Brave Blossoms veteran Tamura, who kicked seven from seven to finish with 17 points, sparking scenes of pandemonium among his teammates after the winning goal successfully bisected the uprights. While they ironically slipped a point below Kobe despite the win, the Eagles are seven points ahead of sixth-placed Kubota.

Divisions Two & Three – Champions Set for Thrilling finale

Johan Ackerman’s Urayasu D-Rocks face a straight shootout against Wayne Pivac’s NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu, who will deny the defending champions back-to-back Division Two titles should they beat them in next weekend’s final round of the section’s regular season.
Both sides won in the latest round, although U-Rocks left it late, with South African hooker Franco Marais scoring the game’s only try in the 76th minute as the league leaders snuck past a gallant Kyushu Electric Power Kyuden Voltex 7-6 yesterday.
It took 33 minutes for points to be registered, when Voltex winger Ren Hagiwara kicked a penalty to give his side the lead, which he doubled with a second goal six minutes from time.
Just when it seemed Voltex would cause the shock of the season in the division, they lost concentration which allowed D-Rocks to pounce, with the Marais try crucially converted by Hikaru Tamura to get his side home.
That result put the onus on the Green Rockets to set up a decider by beating Toyota Industries Corporation Shuttles Aichi, and the charges of the ex-Wales coach responded, keeping the Shuttles at arm’s length throughout the second period after six points had separated the sides at halftime.
The Green Rockets’ Wallaby scrumhalf Nick Phipps was among Tokatsu’s five try-scorers, with winger Kanta Omata picking up a double as their side extended from 27-21 at halftime to win 42-26.
Defeat continued a deflating end to the regular season for the Shuttles, who had been the form team in the early stages before back-to-back defeats to Urayasu and now NEC dropped them out of the title race.
Samoa back-rower Taleni Sau scored his fourth try of the campaign in today’s loss.
The news was better for Red Hurricanes Osaka who won their first match since mid-December, holding off Japan Steel Kamaishi Seawaves 38-33 at Iwate.

The Red Hurricanes led 19-12 at halftime after tries from the ex-Super Rugby trio of Michael Allardice, Bryce Hegarty and Blake Gibson, while the last of their six for the game went to ex-Wasps’-backrower Josh Fenner.
The home side scored five tries of their own, the first of which was scored by their second-rower Hamish Dalzell, cousin of the famed Whitelock brothers in New Zealand rugby.
Meanwhile the Division Three title is all but won by Hino Red Dolphins who extended their lead in the competition after a comfortable 45-18 win over their closest challenger, Shimizu Koto Blue Sharks at Gunma.
Today’s success, which was all but certain by halftime when Hino led 35-8, leaves the Blue Sharks 14 points behind the Dolphins with just five matches left of the regular season to play, and reliant on a major stumble by the division leaders to have any chance of bridging the difference.
Playing just his fifth match of the campaign, Wallaby second-rower Rory Arnold was a try-scorer for Hino.
In the section’s other game, Kurita Water Gush Akishima recorded their third win of the season at Hiroshima, but remain two points behind Mazda on the standings, despite Saturday’s 48-28 victory over the SkyActivs.
Water Gush coasted home on the back of a flawless goalkicking performance by one-time England representative Piers Francis, with the 33-year-old collecting 18 points after landing all eight of his attempts.

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