Japan Rugby League One Preview

Japan Rugby League One Preview

The Flight of the Eagle
Last season they were separated by one place, and six log points.This time, with the roles reversed, three places and nine points separate Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo and Yokohama Canon Eagles, as the semi-finalists from the previous two years meet in a contest that shapes up as having important ramifications for the Eagles in particular.

Back in the top four last term, Canon are reeling from the potentially season-ending injuries to star Springboks, scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and centre Jesse Kriel, and facing a gap to the semi-final positions on the ladder that will become increasingly worrying should they fail to beat Toshiba.

The latter, who are seeking to maintain momentum after an excellent start which sees them unbeaten after six matches, know all about the importance of not losing touch with the pacesetters.
After losing five of their first nine matches, the 2022 semi-finalists left themselves with too much to do last season, despite walking a tightrope through the latter stages of their campaign, where a run of six consecutive
wins came too late to recover the earlier lost ground.

Toshiba’s response was the off-season recruitment of Richie Mo’unga and Shannon Frizell. At a time when Canon’s international test ranks have been emasculated, the star All Black pair have lifted Brave
Lupus to a new level, with Mo’unga already fourth on the individual point-scoring charts, while Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights centre Dylan Riley and Toyota Verblitz winger Taichi Takahashi are the only players to have
registered more than the six tries scored thus far by Frizell.

If Canon have an advantage, it is that they featured in The Cross Border Rugby, which has allowed a competitive outing in the four weeks since Toshiba last took the field.

An understrength Eagles outfit might have been well-beaten by the (Auckland) Blues, but their 57-22 loss came with no extra cost, in terms of injuries, while the arrival of Springbok midfield back Rohan Janse Van Rensburg from the Sharks of the United Rugby Championship, has bolstered their backline resources.

The 29-year-old will make his introduction to the league from the bench. Saturday’s other matches as Round Seven of Division One is completed see Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay look to continue their climb up the table from seventh when they meet the still winless Hanazono Kintetsu Liners, while sixth-placed Shizuoka Blue Revs could jump into the top four should Canon slip up while they win at
Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars.

Ending the weekend in the top four is also mathematically possible for Kobelco Kobe Steelers should they win on Sunday after the three teams immediately above them have lost, but the sole focus for Dave Rennie’s men
against Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo will be to build on their excellent 31-27 win over Canon in the last round, which snapped a run of three straight defeats.

Neither Kobe nor Ricoh featured in The Cross Border Rugby, meaning this will be the first competitive outing for both sides since January 27, when the Black Rams were left stuck on one win after losing a cliffhanger by one
point against Kubota following the concession of an injury time penalty goal.
Having made a similar start last term, where they had won only twice by the time the season reached its midpoint, Australian coach Peter Hewat will be hoping his side can spring into life as it did then, when the Black
Rams won four of the last eight to push away from the bottom three and the relegation jeopardy associated with
the Replacement Battle.

One of the ‘victims’ during that run was Kobe, with Ricoh’s 41-26 win helping them to an eventual seventh-placed
finish, two positions above the Steelers.

Round Six in Division Two concludes on Saturday when Wayne Pivac’s NEC Green Rockets reappear after a 20-day layoff to face Kyushu Electric Power Kyuden Voltex, whose last outing was a heavy loss to Toyota Industries
Shuttles Aichi, five weeks ago.

While success for the former Wales coaches’ charges, against an opponent they beat 41-24 in an earlier meeting, won’t change their third-placed position on the point’s table, it would leave all three front-runners in the grade with identical five-win, one loss records.

The second Hiroshima Derby of the year headlines Division Three, as the Chugoku Electric Power Red Regulions bid for a double over Mazda SkyActivs, while Shimizu Corporation Koto Blue Sharks will be seeking to repeat their 38-20 win over Kurita Water Gush Akishima from the last round.

The Blue Sharks have been boosted by the return of flyhalf Lima Sopoaga, with the dual New Zealand/Samoa international in line for his first outing since just before Christmas after being named on the bench.

Japan Rugby League One Fixtures Round Seven – Part Two – (all kick offs Japan Time)

Division One
Saturday February 24
Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars v Shizuoka Blue Revs; at Sagamihara, 2pm
Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo v Yokohama Canon Eagles at Tokyo; 2.05pm
Hanazono Kintetsu Liners v Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay at Osaka, 2.30pm

Sunday February 25
Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo v Kobelco Kobe Steelers at Tokyo, 1pm

Division Two
Saturday February 24
Kyushu Electric Power Kyuden Voltex v NEC Green Rockets at Kagoshima, 1pm

Division Three
Saturday February 24
Shimizu Corporation Koto Blue Sharks v Kurita Water Gush Akishima at Tokyo, 1pm

Sunday February 25
Chugoku Electric Power Red Regulions v Mazda SkyActivs Hiroshima at Hiroshima, 3pm

Calculators at the Ready: If recent evidence is anything to go by, the busiest man in Osaka on Saturday may well
be the scoreboard attendant. In two meetings with Hanazono Kintetsu Liners last season, Kubota Spears
Funabashi Tokyo Bay scored 132 points – a figure which included 20 tries! Kintetsu will be glad injured Springbok
Malcolm Marx won’t be present after he scored a first half hattrick during Kubota’s 77-12 win in the opening
game. Marx skipped the return, but Haruto Kida was there, also scoring a first half hattrick before adding one in
the second for good measure to finish his afternoon with four of Kubota’s nine tries in the 55-17 win. After scoring
17 tries last term, the 24-year-old winger is going to be hungry, having crossed the chalk just twice so far this
season, which could be bad news for a Kintetsu outfit that has already conceded 283 points at an average of 47
per game.

Dyna Drama: Local fans looking for drama should probably head for Sagamihara on Saturday as the Dynaboars
suite up against the Blue Revs for a match that will guarantee entertainment if it is even half as good as the
corresponding games last term. Act One saw the Dynaboars’ English recruit James Shillcock miss an after-the-siren
conversion which would have stolen the game after a try on fulltime had tied the scores at 27-27. The return was
marked by a 29th-minute red card for All Black backrower Jackson Hemopo, although the 14-men of Sagamihara
battled on bravely and appeared set to earn a second draw until 10 points in the final two minutes gave the Blue
Revs a fortunate 30-20 victory.

Skyfall: Four weeks into the season, the Mazda SkyActivs were flying. They already had two wins on the board,
which was just one short of their total number of wins last season and were confidently lining up their still winless
cross-city rivals, having won two of the three derbies last year. Things didn’t go according to plan. After
establishing a big lead, the Red Regulions held on by a point to open their account, while the SkyActivs have
subsequently conceded 61 points to Hino Red Dolphins for the second time in the campaign. Now, not only are
local bragging rights on the line on Saturday, so too is Mazda’s season, which could descend into an uncontrollable
spin if Chugoku can get the better of them again.

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