Japan Rugby Top League 2017-2018: Round 9 Wrap-up

Date Team Score Team K/O Venue
Sat, 21 Oct 2017 Toshiba 34-20 Sanix 11:30 Chichibu, Tokyo
  NTT Comm. 76-7 Coca-Cola 14:00 Chichibu, Tokyo
  Panasonic 21-10 Suntory 13:00 Kumagaya, Saitama
  Kubota 5-35 Yamaha 14:00 Expo Stadium, Osaka
  Kintetsu 10-17 NEC 11:30 Mizuho, Nagoya
  Toyota Industries 24-33 Toyota 14:00 Mizuho, Nagoya
Sun, 22 Oct 2017 NTT Docomo 36-14 Canon 11:30 Kobe, Hyogo
  Kobe 10-15 Ricoh 14:00 Kobe, Hyogo

In the first game of a double header at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo on Saturday afternoon, Toshiba Brave Lupus beat Munakata Sanix Blues 34-20. In a tight game where the lead changed several times over the first 50 minutes of play, Toshiba finally gained the ascendency with two tries guaranteeing the win and the winning bonus point. Toshiba flyhalf Coenraad van Wyk opened the scoring with a try and a conversion before Sanix struck back with a converted try to prop Hikaru Ishizawa. A Van Wyk penalty pushed Toshiba back in front, but a try, conversion and a penalty to Sanix flyhalf Hiroshi Tashiro gave the Blues a 17-10 lead late in the half. Toshiba wing Takehisa Usuzuki then crossed at the death to make it 17-15 at the break. Brave Lupus captain Richard Kahui touched down early in the second half to restore the lead, but a second penalty from Tashiro kept the game close at 22-20. Further tries to hooker Hiroki Yuhara and Usuzuki saw Toshiba pull away on the scoreboard for what looked like a comfortable victory in the end. Kahui was the man of the match as the Brave Lupus notched up their fifth win of the season and fourth in a row.

In the second game at Chichibu, NTT Communications Shining Arcs hammered Coca-Cola Red Sparks 76-7. NTT Communications ran in ten tries to one in what was the highest scoring win of the season to date. The free-running Shining Arcs scored 38 points in either half as they well and truly put the struggling Red Sparks to the sword. Hooker Takuru Suto and centre Shane Gates both picked up braces while fullback Jumpei Ogura scored a try and knocked over six conversions. Replacement player Hirotomo Ono landed the last conversion while five-eighth Hiraku Tomoigawa chipped in with a drop goal at the death. Brackin Karauria-Henry and centre Takuya Ishibashi were also among the try scorers and there was a penalty try in the mix as well. The score line was out to 73-0 before Coca-Cola finally got on the board through a converted try to Masatoshi Kayashima from the bench. Hooker Suto was the man of the match.

At the Kumagaya Sports Ground in Saitama prefecture on Saturday, Panasonic Wild Knights beat Suntory Sungoliath 21-10. In a battle of the titans, the two remaining unbeaten sides went head to head with Panasonic nudging out Suntory in a hard-fought contest. Both sides scored two tries apiece, but it was the kicking game from the tee for the Wild Knights that was the difference at the end of the 80 minutes of play. Left wing Kenki Fukuoka started the scoring with a try in the opening minute of the game before Suntory right wing Chihito Matsui replied in the eighth minute. Five-eighth Berrick Barnes edged Panasonic ahead 8-5 with a penalty in the fifteenth minute only for the Sungoliath to hit the front for the first time 10 minutes later when Matsui dotted down for his second five-pointer. Centre Rikiya Matsuda then gave Panasonic an 11-10 lead at halftime with a late penalty. The Wild Knights did all the scoring in the latter half with right wing Akihito Yamada crossing the Suntory whitewash with Matsuda adding the conversion and another penalty. David Pocock went on to claim bragging rights over George Smith in the tussle at the breakdown with the man-of-the-match award. The question now is: who can stop Panasonic in the race to the Top League title?

At the Expo ’70 Commemorative Stadium in Osaka on Saturday, Kubota Spears went down 35-5 to Yamaha Jubilo. Yamaha outscored Kubota five tries to one to ensure the bonus point and keep hold of second place on the White Conference table. Elsewhere on the day, Panasonic beat Suntory without a bonus point reducing the difference with Yamaha to nine competition points. The Spears took the challenge to the Jubilo early on with a try to halfback Ippei Okada giving them an early 5-0 lead, but after that, it was all Yamaha on the scoreboard. Fullback Ayumu Goromaru scored and then converted a try midway through the half to give Yamaha a 7-5 lead that ended up standing until the halftime break. Yamaha stepped it up a gear in the second period with further ties to flanker Hayato Nishiuchi, replacement flanker Uwe Helu, halfback Yuki Yatomi and replacement wing Masatoshi Miyazawa. For Kubota, they fell to their sixth loss of the season, a result they did not need.

In another double header on Saturday, at the Paloma Mizuho Rugby Ground in Nagoya, Kintetsu Liners played NEC Green Rockets in the early game with the Green Rockets winning 17-10. In a low-scoring game, both sides scored one try each, but NEC had better success in the kicking stakes. In the struggle of the first half, NEC came out on top to take a 9-0 lead in to halftime thanks to three penalties from playmaker Yosuke Morita. Fullback Semisi Masirewa pegged back three points for the Liners with a penalty on the hour, only for NEC to extend their lead through a try to fullback Hiromasa Yoshihiro ten minutes from time. The game eventually slipped through the fingers of Kintetsu, but a converted try to Michael Stolberg close to time meant the Liners salvaged a losing bonus point from another tough afternoon at the office.

In the second game in Nagoya, the Toyota brands clashed with Toyota Industries Shuttles laying down the challenge to Toyota Verblitz. The Verblitz went on to win the challenge 33-24, but they had to fight all the way for the points. Tries to centre Steven Yates and wings Seiyu Kohara and Jamie Henry helped the Verblitz out to a 19-14 lead at the break, but the game remained evenly poised. Further tries to replacement back-rower Kazuki Himeno and No8 Fetuani Lautaimi during the second period made sure Toyota sent off game captain Juan Smith as a winner in his last game of rugby for the club. The former Springbok stalwart announced his retirement during the week for family reasons. For the Shuttles, centre Katsuyuki Sakai, lock Caderyn Neville and Scott Fuglistaller scored the tries with Sakai adding two conversions, replacement Sam Greene another with flyhalf Francois Brummer kicking a penalty.

On Sunday, NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes played Canon Eagles in the first game of a double header at the Noevir Stadium Kobe in Kobe city, Hyogo prefecture. In something of an upset, Docomo racked up an impressive 36-14 win over an Eagles side that had been running hot over recent rounds. Coming in to this match, the Red Hurricanes had lost their last three matches whereas the reverse was true for the Eagles with three wins in a row including one over Kobe. Consequently, the smart money was on Canon snapping up another win, but NTT had not read the script. First half tries to centre Masaki Kobayashi, left wing Tomohiro Kurata and half Shigeru Kohiyama along with three conversions and a penalty from captain and fullback Riaan Viljoen propelled the Hurricanes to a 24-0 lead at halftime, and from there they never looked back. The inkling of a fightback was there early in the latter half with a converted try to fullback Tokiro Harada reducing the margin to 24-7, but Canon could not maintain the momentum. Lock Joe Iongi touched down for Docomo and then wing Hosea Saumaki for Canon before outside centre Kim Hon-hi sealed the win and the bonus point for the Red Hurricanes with the fifth team try late in the game.

In the second game at the Noevir Stadium, Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers succumbed to Ricoh Black Rams 15-10 for their third loss of the season. Kobe opened their season with six wins on the run, but serious loses to Canon, Panasonic and now Ricoh over the last three weeks have put a major dent in their title aspirations. On the other hand, Ricoh are showing good form as they quietly go about their business with six wins for three losses. Ricoh, along with Toyota are the most improved mid-table sides this year, and they are applying significant pressure on teams at the top end of the leader board. The only points in the first half went to the Black Rams with a five pointer to right wing Yusuke Matsumoto, in spite of the fact outside centre Tamati Ellison missed with the conversion and two penalty attempts. After the resumption of play, inside centre Daisuke Hamano added a second try for Ricoh and this time Ellison was on target with the conversion to extend the lead to 12-0. In a tight affair where tries were always going to be hard to come by, a 12-0 lead was particularly meaningful. Outside centre, Issei Shige put the Steelers on the board with a try in the seventh minute, but Ellison added to the Ricoh score with a penalty in the fifteenth minute to make it a ten-point game at 15-5. Shige crossed for a second try in the twenty-fourth minute, but the Black Rams dug deep to grind out the most important win of their season to date.