Japan Rugby Top League 2017-2018: Round 4 Preview

Date Team Score Team K/O Venue
Fri, 08 Sep 2017 NEC   Kobe 19:30 Chichibu, Tokyo
Sat, 09 Sep 2017 Kubota   Toyota Industries 16:30 Chichibu, Tokyo
  Suntory   NTT Comm. 19:00 Chichibu, Tokyo
  Yamaha   Ricoh 17:00 Yamaha Stadium, Shizuoka
  NTT Docomo   Sanix 16:30 Nishikyogoku, Kyoto
  Toyota   Toshiba 19:00 Nishikyogoku, Kyoto
  Kintetsu   Canon 17:00 Naruto, Tokushima
  Coca-Cola   Panasonic 17:00 Saga, Saga

In the only Friday game in round four, NEC Green Rockets play Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers in an evening match at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo. NEC lost to Toshiba, beat Coca-Cola and then defeated Toyota Industries 46-26 in Sapporo last Saturday for their second win of the season. On the other hand, Kobe have had comfortable wins over NTT Docomo, Sanix and Kubota. NEC outside centre Maritino Nemani and wing Teruya Goto have been scoring tries over the early rounds, but the Green Rockets took the foot off the accelerator in the latter half last week to allow the Shuttles back into the game. This is something they can ill-afford against Kobe, or they will be severely punished on the scoreboard. The Steelers have a lethal attack and with fullback Codey Rei on song with the boot, NEC will know Kobe are coming to the nation’s capital to play to win.

All the other seven games this round are slated for Saturday starting with a double header at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo. In the first game, Kubota Spears play Toyota Industries Shuttles. Kubota lost to Panasonic beat NTT Docomo before being humbled 45-7 by Kobe in Osaka last round. Meanwhile, the Shuttles had a one-point loss to Kintetsu, went down to Yamaha and then lost 42-26 to NEC. Kubota were out-classed by Kobe last round, but up against the Toyota Industries, this is a must-win fight. Head coach Frans Ludeke will undoubtedly prepare the Spears well and instil in the group that a loss is unacceptable. It is all there to do for the Industries side as they travel up to Tokyo still in search of their first win of the season. They scored four tries in a well-beaten side last week, but ultimately, it will be their defence that determines the outcome of this match.

In the latter game at Chichibu, Suntory Sungoliath play NTT Communications Shining Arcs. Suntory as the defending Top League champions are undefeated after three rounds with wins over Canon, Ricoh and Yamaha. The Sungoliath had to dig deep against Yamaha and come from behind at the death to take the match, but it says a lot about the calibre of this squad. NTT Communications are quietly going about their business and despite an opening round loss to Ricoh, come into this match with back-to-back wins over Toshiba and Kintetsu. Suntory will be a mighty challenge, but the Shining Arcs will unquestionably throw down the gauntlet to their more fancied opposition. Playmaker Kosei Ono was the stand out in an otherwise star-studded Suntory line-up last week earning him man-of-the-match honours. He will be facing Jumpei Ogura on the other side of the pitch and he will be out to remind national coach Jamie Joseph that he is still around and playing well.

Yamaha Jubilo are at home at the Yamaha Stadium in Shizuoka prefecture to play Ricoh Black Rams. Yamaha had wins over Toyota Verblitz and Toyota Industries, but had to watch as Suntory stole away the win 27-24 in Tokyo last round. Ricoh beat NTT Communications, lost to Suntory and then had a bonus-point win over Sanix in Yamaguchi last Saturday. Yamaha will be smarting after the loss to Suntory and the Jubilo look set to take it out on Ricoh. Wing Chikara Ito is a man to watch after touching down in all three games so far this season, while fullback Ayumu Goromaru had a flawless day with the boot from the tee last week as an extra warning to the Black Rams. For Ricoh, first five Robbie Robinson was involved all over the park with two tries, two conversions and two penalties for a personal haul of 20 points for the match. Not surprisingly, he was the man of the match and Yamaha will want to mark him closely.

In another double header on Saturday, this time at the Nishikyogoku Stadium in Kyoto, NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes play Munakata Sanix Blues in the early game. Docomo lost to Kobe and then Kubota to open their new season back in Top League, but chalked up their first victory with a 28-24 win over Coca-Cola last Saturday. Meanwhile, Sanix opened their account with a win over Kyushu rivals Coca-Cola before losing to Kobe and Ricoh over subsequent weeks. Docomo faded in the second half last week, but eventually found their second wind with Japan international centre Mifiposeti Paea scoring the match-winning try. Riaan Viljoen leads the Red Hurricanes from fullback and he will be looking for a big effort from the men in front of him. In the Sanix ranks, former England lock Geoff Parling will lead from the front in the pack.

In the latter game in Kyoto, Toyota Verblitz play Toshiba Brave Lupus. Toyota had a narrow one-point loss to Yamaha in their first game, but followed that up with wins over Kintetsu and Canon. In contrast, Toshiba enjoyed a win over NEC in the opening round, but then suffered losses to NTT Communications and Panasonic. Jake White’s Toyota know Toshiba will be tough opposition, but the team is starting to gel with rookie back-rower and captain Kazuki Himeno and flyhalf Lionel Cronje in good form. White has former Springbok back-rower Juan Smith on the bench this week and he will have an impact late in the game. Toshiba have to stem the losses and it must start with putting away Toyota. Veteran hooker Hiroki Yuhara will captain the side in the absence of Richard Kahui. The game will be won or lost up front and the Japan internationals in the Toshiba pack will have to stand up and be counted. Yuhara, along with props Masataka Mikami and Takuma Asahara, lock Kyosuke Kajikawa and back-rowers Yoshitaka Tokunaga and Michael Leitch all need to have big games.

Elsewhere on Saturday, at the Naruto-Otsuka Sports Park in Naruto city in Tokushima prefecture on the island of Shikoku, Kintetsu Liners play Canon Eagles. Kintetsu had a one-point win over Toyota Industries in their first match of the season, but then lost to Toyota Verblitz and NTT Communications. In the meantime, Canon have lost to heavyweights Suntory, Panasonic and Toyota Verblitz in their first three games. These two sides are evenly matched and that should produce a first-class spectacle for the fans in Shikoku. Hooker Atsushi Kashimoto captains the Liners from the centre of the scrum and he will be looking to the likes of lock Luke Thompson and centre Anthony Fainga’a for support. Players to watch for the Eagles include Japan international playmaker Yu Tamura and fullback Lwazi Mvovo.

At the Saga Sports Ground in Saga city in the prefecture of the same name, Coca-Cola Red Sparks stay in Kyushu to face the potency of Panasonic Wild Knights. The Red Sparks went down to Kyushu rivals Sanix in their first match of the season and then lost to NEC and NTT Docomo over subsequent rounds. In total contrast, Panasonic are rolling all before them with impressive bonus-point wins over Kubota, Canon and Toshiba. It is a case of all or nothing for Coca-Cola as captain Kota Yamashita on the side of the scrum along with lock Mark Abbott and Japan international centres Tim Lafaele and William Tupou look to rally the troops. Panasonic coach Robbie Deans has rotated a number of players for this match, with Atsushi Sakate in as starting hooker moving Shota Horie to the bench and the halves Keisuke Uchida and Takuya Yamasawa replace Fumiaki Tanaka and Berrick Barnes. Digby Ioane also gets a start in the centres, as does Japan international Yoshikazu Fujita on the right wing.