Japan Rugby League One 2023-24 Round Six Preview

Japan Rugby League One 2023-24 Round Six Preview

Division One – Last Call (Before Cross Border)

Official business might take priority when Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights and Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath step out on Saturday, but don’t be fooled.
With these the last outings prior to the teams’ Cross Border engagements against the (Auckland) Blues and Gallagher (Waikato) Chiefs respectively, the desire for a strong final dress rehearsal ahead of those historic occasions will not be too far from the minds.

Although Saitama have had regular exposure to the Queensland Reds in recent seasons through their high- performance partnership, losing by just two when they visited Brisbane at the end of last year, these have been

development games, fielding sides filled as much with second tier players as they were seasoned front-liners.
Playing a strong and motivated Chiefs line-up, which is in the ‘serious’ stages of its Super Rugby preparation, is something different, and a prospect sure to be eagerly awaited by the seasoned campaigners – both local and foreign - who populate the Wild Knights squad.
Former Melbourne Rebels second rower Esei Haangana gets his chance to impress, having been handed the captaincy for the first time in league matches on Saturday, while his partner in the engine room of the scrum, Springbok Lood de Jager, continues his comeback after five months on the sideline.
The prospect of Cross Border gives Saturday’s final shakedown against Mie Honda Heat an added edge, which is probably not what Kieran Crowley’s men need as the promoted side tries again for its first win of the season.
The former Italy coach, who joined Heat after completing his commitments at the Rugby World Cup, inherited a side that while confident after promotion, was entering largely uncharted waters.

The loss of ex-Argentine skipper Pablo Matera, who was a massive figure in the club’s promotion campaign last term, has added to Crowley’s challenge, although it’s the Heat’s inability to ‘stay in the fight’ for long enough that has ultimately been their undoing so far.
Honda has often been competitive for periods, but then leaked points in clusters, which has destroyed any prospect of securing a favourable result.
This is certainly not something they can afford to do against a Wild Knights outfit averaging 54 points a game, who simply destroyed Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars in its previous outings.
For that reason, it is probably a positive thing for Sagamihara that they do not have to stew on their 81-21 defeat, having the chance to prove the result was rogue straight away, rather than waiting two weeks for another crack.
That ‘good news’ is tempered by the fact that they are going to have to do it against a Sungoliath side that has put together a strong body of work, interrupted only by their narrow defeat against Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo in the Fuchu derby.
After being heavily reliant on try-scoring wonder Seiya Ozaki last season, the 18-try winger has scored just four this term, yet Suntory (25) still sit fourth for overall tries in the competition, highlighting an attack that appears to have more versatility, with greater threat across the field.
This is something that the Blues, as well as the Dynaboars, will be taking note of, ahead of the next two games.
Sagamihara’s defensive statistics had been acceptable prior to last weekend, which left coach Glen Delany with a quandary as to whether to tinker with his systems, or just write the game off as a bad day at the office.
Given he has made six changes to his starting XV, as well as one positional, indications are he chose the former.
How Delany’s troops respond, especially given they have now lost three on the trot, may tell us a lot about what the team’s trajectory for the rest of the campaign is going to be.
The sole game among the lower divisions for the weekend is a Division Three clash between Shimizu Koto Blue Sharks and Kurita Water Gush Akishima, where the Blue Sharks will be anxious to make amends after Saturday’s surprise defeat at the hand of Mazda SkyActivs Hiroshima.
With two points separating the pair on the log, defeat would drop the Blue Sharks to second-from-bottom; a prospect that would have been almost unthinkable when they began their campaign, having shown their ambition
with the signing of Lima Sopoaga.

The dual international’s absence through injury last weekend was undoubtedly a contributing factor in their performance and missing him again won’t help.
Water Gush had to wait until their third attempt to secure a victory and will be looking to follow in the footsteps of SkyActivs by moving up the table.

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

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