Japan Rugby League One 2023-24 Round Thirteen Review

Japan Rugby League One 2023-24 Round Thirteen Review

Division One – Toshiba the brave

A missed conversion in the 86th minute by flyhalf Bryn Gatland has left Kobelco Kobe Steelers’ playoffs hopes hanging by a thread, while confirming Toshiba Brave Lupus as a semi-final participant after the thrilling 40-40 draw that concluded Round 13 of Japan Rugby League One in Tokyo today.
The competition’s leading point-scorer hadn’t missed prior to his final kick on goal but had twice benefited from the good fortune of attempts bouncing through off the inside of the goalpost.
There was to be no third time lucky as he was unable to draw in the game’s decisive goal-kick in from the sideline, with his attempt, and potentially Kobe’s semi-final prospects, finishing wide of the mark.
Perhaps inspired by the emotion surrounding last week’s death of Saimone Mo’unga, the father of their All Black backline star Richie, Brave Lupus came out of the changing sheds full of energy, rocking their visitors with a try in the third minute by inside centre Nicholas McCurran.
It set the tone for a breathless first half where the competition’s second-placed side dominated, ruthlessly punishing their error-prone opponents with several long-range tries on their way to a 33-14 halftime advantage.
It took Kobe 24 minutes to register a point, by which time they trailed 19-0, and that was still the margin by the break, with New Zealand fullback Michael Collins ending the half with two of his side’s five tries, against the two registered by the Steelers.
The second of those was scored by influential backrower Amanaki Saumaki, who finished with two, and was at the heart of a completely different Kobe side that emerged for the second period and played like a side whose season depended on the outcome.

Under relentless pressure, a gallant Brave Lupus finally gave ground, with three tries in the final 20 minutes – which included six added minutes after the hooter had sounded – putting Kobe in a position to win the match, before the missed conversion denied them two potentially season-defining competition points.
Coach Dave Rennie will rue his troops not having totally capitalised on their complete dominance after the break, throwing away much of the advantage that was gained from their lions’ share of possession due to errors, the majority of which came from pushed passes and inaccuracies in contact.
Although limited to just one try in the game’s second 40 minutes, Brave Lupus showed the resilience that has seen them suffer just one defeat and were full value for their share of the spoils.
It was the second week in a row where their outcome was decided on a favourable last play of the game, with
Mo’unga earlier having nailed a conversion to beat Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay.
While the seven-time Super Rugby winner was an absentee, understudy Takuro Matsunaga performed admirably, critically succeeding with five of his six attempts on goal, several of which were from wide angles.
After another frustrating afternoon for Kobe, the Kansai club lies seven points outside of the top four with games against Kubota, Shizuoka, and Honda to come.
All look winnable but even three bonus point wins may not be enough to get the former Wallaby coaches’ men through, with Kobe now reliant on Yokohama Canon Eagles dropping two of their last three games.
The Eagles face Mitsubishi and Toyota prior to a final round date with their conquerors in last year’s semi-final, Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights.
While it was an emotional weekend for one All Black flyhalf, another enjoyed the best afternoon of his maiden season at Toyota, with Beauden Barrett scoring his first two tries for the club as Verblitz beat Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars 34-20 to move back into the top half of the table.
The tries, which were among the 32-year-old’s 19-point contribution, placed a full-stop on a difficult three weeks for the 123-cap international, after he was red carded for a dangerous tackle during Toyota’s 24-8 humbling by
Shizuoka Blue Revs, which forced him to sit out last week’s win over Hanazono Kintetsu Liners due to suspension.
Both Barrett’s tries came in the second half, with centre Yuichiro Wada also crossing twice, as Verblitz eventually drew away from the Dynaboars after Mitsubishi had held Toyota to an 8-3 halftime advantage.

The All Blacks’ scoring interventions in the 55th and 64th minutes were split by Wada’s second try in the 57th, after the Dynaboars had turned the game around when they scored twice in three minutes just after the re-start of play to jump to a 17-8 lead.
An 11th try of the season by Toyota fullback Taichi Takahashi finally finished the Dynaboars off, while also securing Verblitz a useful bonus point that has placed them nine points behind the Eagles with three matches to play, their next of which is against unbeaten Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights.
Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath consolidated their hold on third, running in nine tries during a 60-10 demolition of Mie Honda Heat, with Australian-born backrower Tamati Ioane scoring twice in just his fourth outing for the club.
The door was opened for the 26-year-old, who played 15 matches for the Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby between 2022 and 2023, by the injury to All Black captain Sam Cane, and his maiden tries for the club helped Sungoliath establish a 38-5 lead, 10 minutes after halftime.
Winger Seiya Ozaki, who also took his tally for the campaign to 11, was a double try-scorer for the second week running, while scrumhalf Naoto Saito chipped in with two during the emphatic nine-try-to-two victory.
The 12th defeat of their season confirmed a place for Heat in next month’s Replacement Battle where they will try to defend the Division One status they achieved during last year’s series.
Saturday’s third match saw Division One’s first draw – 24 hours before its’ second – on a remarkable afternoon in Shizuoka where Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay scored 31 points in the first half but were held scoreless in the second as the home side fought back to gain a share of the spoils.
In a dramatic finish, the defending champions ended the contest with 13 players after prop Yota Kamimori and flyhalf Bernard Foley were sinbinned in the final 10 minutes, with the Blue Revs making the most of their two-man advantage to score two tries, the first of which was claimed by the competition’s leading try-scorer Malo Tuitama.
The 28-year-old found the goal-line for the 15th time with six minutes to play, and second rower Vueti Tupou completed the comeback when he scored two minutes into referee’s time.
Shizuoka winger Keagen Faria had the chance to end one of the longest losing runs in Japanese club rugby as the Blue Revs bid for their first win at home against the Spears since 2006, but he scuffed the final conversion from a nearly in-front – having converted the previous one from the sideline – leaving the game level 31-31, which dropped both sides by one position on the point’s table.
Prior to his yellow card for an around the neck tackle, Foley had scored his second try in as many weeks after returning from injury, while dual international Charles Piutau scored a try in each half for the Shizuoka.

The draw was the Blue Revs’ third from their last 29 matches, after they finished level with each of the Dynaboars and Eagles last term.

Four-star Viliame buries Kintetsu

Fijian-born Viliame Takayawa was the man of the moment on Friday night as the Eagles ticked off another box in their quest to return to semi-final play by administering a 52-33 lesson to Hanazono Kintetsu Liners in Osaka.
The 27-year-old was educated at Suva Grammar and then Auckland’s famed Kelston Boys’ High School – the educational facility where the ex-All Black, Wales and British & Irish Lions coach Graham Henry once ran the rugby programme – and his performance showed again what a great servant he has been since joining the Eagles.
The powerful centre’s four tries destroyed Kintetsu, while helping to collect an all-important try-scoring bonus point for the visitors.
Takayawa scored three of Yokohama’s four first half tries – the other going to his Springbok midfield partner Rohan Janse van Rensburg – as well as his side’s final score of the night, which ensured that a brave second half fightback by Kintetsu wouldn’t deny the Eagles the prized extra point.
The quartet pushed Takayawa’s tally in the league to 11, alongside his try against the (Auckland) Blues in The Cross Border Rugby.
After conceding an early try, the Eagles posted six themselves between the 15th and 53rd minutes to make sure of retaining fourth spot, while increasing the pressure on the chasing pack.
Up the road in Tokyo, Wallaby winger Marika Koroibete was at it again, bagging his second two-try haul in a week as the Wild Knights savaged Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo, winning 50-26.
While the competition leaders eased off the gas in the second half – a fault coach Robbie Deans won’t be especially happy about – a 33-7 lead after 32 minutes meant the game was effectively over well before his troops lowered their defensive guard.
Although they conceded two tries in each half, the Wild Knights scored seven, and had blown out to 50-14 entering the final 10 minutes, where they put the cudgel away, and the Black Rams took advantage to provide their loyal Friday night crowd with some late cheer.
Prior to last weekend’s clubbing of Mitsubishi, Koroibete had crossed the goal-line just twice from 13 appearance in the league, as well as during the 38-14 thumping of the Gallagher (Waikato) Chiefs in The Cross Border Rugby.

With his presence mixed between starts, and use off the bench as a strike weapon, the unbeaten Wild Knights have had the luxury of tinkering with the best way to use their Wallaby winger.
Four tries in the last two weeks may see the powerful Fijian back on fulltime duty as a starter now, which is ominous for upcoming opponents, especially in the playoffs, where Koroibete scored a hattrick in the semi-final last year.

Sheepish Sakate: Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights skipper Atsushi Sakate might not count sheep at night, but he might dream of scoring tries against them, because he certainly seems to enjoy it. Friday night’s opening score during the competition front-runners’ 24-point win over Black Rams Tokyo was the Brave Blossoms hooker’s fourth from his last three outings against Ricoh. This included the first two tries of the game earlier in the season which the Wild Knights won 44-17. Sakate’s tries against the Black Rams represent threequarters of those he has scored in the league this term, although the under-rated 30-year-old did also cross the line against the Chiefs in February. Sakate’s four tries in the league has already equalled his total from last term. With five games to go, including the playoffs, he is closing in on the six he scored in the maiden edition of the league three seasons ago, where he finished just five behind that year’s leading try-scorer, centre, and teammate Dylan Riley.

Creeping closer: Following a mixed start to the campaign, five tries in three outings – which includes two in each of the last two weeks – is moving last season’s top try-scorer, Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath’s Seiya Ozaki, closer to the top of the individual rankings. After bagging 18 tries last term, Ozaki jumped out of the starter’s gates with an opening day hattrick against Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay. He had gone quiet since though, crossing the
goal-line just three times in the following nine games to be well off the pace set by Shizuoka Blue Revs winger Malo Tuitama, before finding his ‘touch’ again. His latest ‘burst’ has put Ozaki in the frame to go back-to-back as the competition’s leading try-hunter, especially as he is likely to have two more games than Tuitama to achieve it, with Suntory on course for a playoff series that won’t see Shizuoka feature.

Harrowing times again at Hanazono: After a harrowing 2022-23 season, the crew at Hanazono Kintetsu Liners would have hoped for an easier ride this time, but they haven’t had it. If anything, it has been even worse!
Winless after 13 games, Friday night saw the side ‘qualify’ for their second appearance in The Replacement Battle in as many years, following their heavy defeat against Yokohama Canon Eagles. While Kintetsu are scoring plenty of points – this latest loss was the fifth time they have exceeded 25 – they are conceding them at a far greater rate, which will be a major concern for coach Shogo Mukai as they use their final three matches of the regular season to prepare for the promotion/relegation matches. Although their opponent for the two-legged series is yet to be determined – with the Division Two ‘grading’ round starting this weekend – a repeat of last season’s showdown with Urayasu D-Rocks would not surprise. With Quade Cooper returning from injury to run the show, Kintetsu ran rings around the Division Two champions, securing their topflight status with plenty to spare. A year on, Urayasu are again second-tier top dogs, and they will undoubtedly be better prepared if they draw Kintetsu again.

Latest News