Toshiba Brave Lupus emerges Japan Rugby League One 2023-24 Champions

Toshiba Brave Lupus emerges Japan Rugby League One 2023-24 Champions

Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo 24 - Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights 20
Sunday May 26 at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo

Toshiba Brave Lupus are the champions of Japan after they won an epic final of Japan Rugby League One today, 24-20 in front of a crowd of 57,000 at the National Stadium in Tokyo.
The thrilling contest provided a dramatic finish as the Wild Knights had what would have been the match-winning score disallowed, with the 79th minute ‘try’ by replacement winger Tomoki Osada ruled out by the TMO following a forward pass from the retiring legend Shota Horie during the 15-phase build up.
While the ball definitely floated forward in the play, it was difficult to tell for certain on replay whether his hands had been positioned in a forward position as he off-loaded.
The decision was perhaps less contentious than an earlier call that went against the Wild Knights after Brave Lupus winger Jone Naikabula – the game’s individual star – appeared to ground the ball short of the goal-line while scoring the game’s opening try.
The awarding of the score was not referred, leaving the Wild Knights aggrieved, while giving Brave Lupus the lead for the first time.
Todd Blackadder’s men had survived a furious opening assault by their rivals, with heroic defence twice holding up Wild Knights players over the goal-line, while their pressure at the breakdown and swarming defence forced a litany of mistakes as their opponents’ pushed passes and lost control of possession in contact on several occasions.

When Brave Lupus flyhalf Richie Mo’unga added a penalty goal to their tally, a 10-6 halftime advantage looked a handy one, but it became even more valuable a minute before the break after Wild Knights winger Marika Koroibete was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on his fellow Fijian, Naikabula.
The Brave Blossoms winger had got away again down the touchline and was scragged around the neck by his Wallaby counterpart as he raced back to run the Brave Lupus man down.
Naikabula made the Wild Knights pay for Koroibete’s absence, catching them cold down the short side of an attacking ruck for his 12th try of the season, which had been set up by a 50/20 kick from Mo’unga.
The All Black, who added Japan Rugby League One to his seven titles in Super Rugby, had become an increasingly influential force in the game, but a missed penalty goal by the Brave Lupus flyhalf in the 60th minute began a momentum shift that totally turned the game around, with the Wild Knights hitting their opponents with two tries in five minutes.
Thailand-born backrower Ben Gunter forced his way over from a ruck near the goal-line after Brave Lupus made a mess of clearing a kick through, then winger Taiki Koyama scored after supporting Koroibete, who had received a favourable bounce from a kick in behind the line by fullback Takuya Yamasawa.
From 17-6 down, the Wild Knights suddenly led 20-17 but they were to be denied the glory when the irrepressible Naikabula popped up again, laying on a try for replacement Yuto Mori, following another sideline burst that got outside of the back-peddling defensive line.
Six minutes remained when Mo’unga converted Mori’s try, and it was probably the longest six minutes of the players and coaching staff of Brave Lupus’s lives as the Wild Knights responded furiously, eventually busting the defence for Osada to finish the most important ‘non’ try of the season.
With Rikiya Matsuda preparing to line up the conversion, and his teammates celebrating, play was called to a halt after the TMO advised of a possible forward pass.
The decision landed in favour of Brave Lupus, completing a revival begun when Blackadder arrived to take over the reins at the start of the ill-fated 2019-20 season.
It was the first title of the former All Black captain’s coaching career.
The win also allowed his prize recruit, Mo’unga, to outdo former All Black colleagues, Beauden Barrett and Damien McKenzie, who had both been unable to topple the Wild Knights in finals during their stints with Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath.

Unbeaten for the season before the decider, Saitama was denied a seventh title, after back-to-back final defeats, as Brave Lupus joined them on six championships, with today being their first triumph since the 2009-10 campaign.
The size of the crowd, 13,000 more than attended the corresponding game last season, took overall attendance for the competition beyond 1,100,000 – a 350,000 increase on last term –making the third edition of the league, it’s best yet.

Third & Fourth Playoff

Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath 40 - Yokohama Canon Eagles 33
Saturday May 25 at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo

Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath and Yokohama Canon Eagles reprised their thriller from the regular season as Sungoliath claimed third in an exciting contest, getting home 40-33 following a last-minute try by winger Shota Emi. Yokohama had won the earlier match 37-35 after rallying from a 35-10 halftime deficit, clinching the win with a penalty in referee’s time by ex-Brave Blossoms flyhalf Yu Tamura.
That win had come at a critical juncture in the Eagles run to the semi-finals.
This time, the dramatic outcome fell Suntory’s way, with Emi’s try, in the 80th minute of playing time, getting his side over the line after they had at one point in the first half trailed 26-7.
The winger’s try was Suntory’s second in the last five minutes, after backrower Tamati Ioane had found his way to the goal-line for the second time to level the game 33-33.
Yokohama were made to rue the yellow card awarded against Mitchell Brown, with the New Zealander being the recipient on behalf of his side, after the Eagles conceded a series of penalties trying to fend off Suntory’s late surge.
The Eagles were in front 33-28 at the time of the second rower’s departure but couldn’t hold out with 14 men.
Defeat was especially tough on Eagles winger Matsui Chihito who had had a fine day at the ‘office’, bagging a hattrick in just his fifth appearance of the season.
The 29-year-old’s contribution had his side on course to repeat last year’s third place finish, helping the Eagles to 12-point halftime advantage, which they extended to 19 two minutes after the re-start.
It wasn’t enough.

In a similar scenario to their last meeting – where Suntory failed to score a point in the second half – this time it flipped the other way, with Chihito’s third try registered in the 42nd minute, and the Eagles failing to score again.
The win reversed Suntory’s 26-20 defeat by Yokohama in last year’s corresponding match.
While Sungoliath – who were without their international stars, Springbok winger Cheslin Kolbe and All Black backrower Sam Cane for much of the campaign – finished with a 11-1-6 record, their campaign could easily have presented a different picture had they came out on the right side of narrow losses to each of the other semi-finalists in the regular season.
Suntory went down by four against the Wild Knights, two against the Eagles and seven against Brave Lupus.
The Eagles, who also suffered from losing their star Springbok scrumhalf Faf de Klerk mid-season and going without Bok centre Jesse Kriel for a chunk of the competition, finished with a record of 10 wins and eight defeats.

The Replacement Battle – D-Rocks begin to roll!

Urayasu D-Rocks have taken the first major step on the journey towards fulfilling the club’s stated ambition after gaining promotion into Division One following a 35-30 win over Hanazono Kintetsu Liners in the second leg of their
Replacement Battle.
D-Rocks president Masahiro Shimoki set the lofty goal of becoming the best team in the league when the club – which emerged out of the combining of resources between the two sides in the NTT Communications stable,
Shining Arcs and Red Hurricanes – was inaugurated last year.
Friday night’s victory in Osaka, which elevated D-Rocks into next year’s top section at Kintetsu’s expense, was sweet revenge for last year’s comprehensive defeat by the Liners in the corresponding series.
Trailing by nine after the away leg, Kintetsu made the perfect start when ex-Wallaby scrumhalf Will Genia, who returned to the side after a month-long absence, opened the scoring with a try in the first minute of the game.
While D-Rocks fought back, Kintetsu had wiped out the deficit by the 56th minute, taking a three-point lead in the series after Wallaby flyhalf Quade Cooper landed his third penalty goal to take his team ahead 23-11.
The game – and the series – turned on a penalty try that was awarded against Kintetsu three minutes later for obstruction; an action that saw second rower Sanaila Waqa despatched to the sinbin.
Urayasu took command in his absence, stretching their lead to an insurmountable 35-23 when ex-Super Rugby (Auckland) Blues flyhalf Otere Black landed his fourth goal of the night, three minutes from time.

Although prop Lata Tangimana gave the 8000 locals in the crowd something to cheer before they returned to their homes, when he scored his side’s second try in injury time, it wasn’t enough even to win the game, let alone overturn Kintetsu’s point’s deficit in the tie, dropping the side back to Division Two after two seasons.
Kintetsu, who were promoted as Division Two champions after the maiden Japan Rugby League One, had a tough time of it in the higher grade, winning just twice in 32 matches across their two seasons.
After being denied last year, despite having romped through Division Two unbeaten, and then suffering the first regular season defeat of the club’s history on the opening weekend this term against NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu, D-Rocks recovered to win 13-straight.
Making the Johan Ackerman-coached side’s success even sweeter was that it was achieved despite the minimal role of star player Israel Folau, with the injury plagued duel international playing just 64 minutes across two appearances.
Although also hampered by injury, fellow Wallaby star Samu Kerevi featured in 10 of his new side’s 14 matches after an off-season transfer from Sungoliath.
While Urayasu and Kintetsu have swapped places, it’s as you were for the remaining three spots that were up for grabs in the Replacement Battle as Mie Honda Heat and Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo saw off their second tier challengers, Toyota Industries Shuttles Aichi and NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu, while Japan Steel Kamaishi Seawaves fended off Kurita Water Gush Akishima for the second straight year, repeating their success from last year’s promotion/relegation series.
Ricoh flattened 14-man NEC, handing the Green Rockets their heaviest defeat of the season in Saturday’s 55-0 rout.
Any hopes Wayne Pivac’s men might have held about running down their 19-point deficit from the first leg were sunk after 13 minutes when backrower Aseri Masivou was dismissed for dangerous play.
The Black Rams led 5-0 at the time, and cashed in against their deflated opponents, finishing with nine tries, two by their Brave Blossoms star and cult hero Amato Fakatava.
The 29-year was joined on the scoresheet by ex-England backrower Nathan Hughes, who picked up his 12th try of the campaign, with former Queensland Reds utility back, fullback Isaac Lucas, also sharing in the scoring spree.
After a promising start, which saw the Green Rockets lose just once through the opening nine games, their season collapsed dramatically, with yesterday’s mauling the final chapter of a five-game losing streak which put paid to their hopes of bouncing straight back to Division One following last year’s relegation.

Honda remain a Division One side but endured a nervous finish after falling to a 24-15 defeat against the Shuttles.
With an 18-point cushion from last week, the possibility of Heat being relegated always appeared unlikely, even more so after tries by former Argentine skipper Pablo Matera and Wallaby fullback Tom Banks reeled in a fine start by the visitors.
Two tries by winger Go Nakano had frayed nerves in the Honda camp, cutting their series advantage to just one point after the Shuttles jumped to a 17-0 lead in the opening 20 minutes.
Matera’s fifth try of the two-match series narrowed the gap in the game to five, keeping Heat in front by 13.
While a try by Shuttles hooker Hiroki Murakawa reduced the home side’s series advantage to six, that was as close as the challengers could get.
Honda kept the Division Two side at bay for the remainder of the game, with a penalty goal by flyhalf Gwante O reducing the Shuttles lead to 24-15, 10 points short of the required target.
The Shuttles will have Japan Steel Kamaishi Seawaves for company in next year’s expanded eight team division, after they comfortably saw off Division Three challengers Kurita Water Gush Akishima 41-26 to complete a 78-45 win on aggregate.
Kamaishi quickly added to their 18-point lead from the first game, putting three tries on Akishima in the opening 20 minutes, which left Water Gush with a mountain to climb.
While the Wycliff Palu-coached side fought back bravely, and briefly gave themselves hope when they rallied to take a two-point lead, 26-24, heading into the last 15 minutes, their ill-discipline gave the game away.
Akishima prop Masashi Debuchi and second rower Daymon Leasuasu both received yellow cards in the final 10 minutes, and the Seawaves finished their season on a high, scoring three tries in the final six minutes to surge to a 15-point victory.

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