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Blue Revs counting the real cost of Kwagga's injury

ROUND 10 PREVIEW: Time is running out for the Tokyo Bay-based Spears and Kwagga Smith’s Black Rams.

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While the status of their title defence is not terminal yet, the defending champions’ slide down the championship table over the last two rounds has left the side seven points outside of the top four, with the Spears ‘ play-off hopes hanging by an increasingly thin thread.

Having their international trio of Welshman Liam Williams, Wallaby Bernard Foley and All Black Dane Coles all sidelined by injury as this critical juncture is adding to the headaches for Spears coach Frans Ludeke.

Although the plight of Friday’s opponents, the Eagles, is not so desperate, a loss for them would be a missed opportunity, especially on a weekend where first on the table will play fourth, while third meets sixth.

A late scoring burst gave Kubota a bonus point in last weekend’s loss to Verblitz, but its’ significance will only be judged retrospectively, especially given the Spears’ tough run home; a schedule which includes their grand final rivals from last term, Wild Knights (currently first), along with Sungoliath (third) and Brave Lupus (second).

The weekend has important ramifications for the top of the table, but it also contains some key matches for the bottom, as Hanazono Kintetsu Liners and Mie Honda Heat meet to chase their first win, while Black Rams host Blue Revs in a game that could also have a significant influence on post-season play.

Having looked replacement battle-bound for much of the campaign, the Black Rams gave their hopes of avoiding the end-of-season relegation lottery a lift by beating the Heat.

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Even though the 24-14 win was not convincing, being held scoreless in the second half, the four points gained from their second win closed the Black Rams to within five of the Blue Revs side whose campaign appears to be spinning out of control.

Having suffered a massive blow after the season-ending injury to captain Kwagga Smith, the magnitude of the back row forward’s absence is becoming apparent.

The Blue Revs, who still have the dual All Black/Tonga representative Charles Piutau and Maori Bryn Hall on the roster, have won just once since their Springbok talisman was scratched from the remainder of their campaign.

The win, in the first game after the 30-year-old’s exit, came against winless Kintetsu.

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Since then, the Blue Revs conceded 132 points in three games, form that has replacement battle ‘candidate’ written all over it.

Kintetsu and Honda are unlikely to escape that fate, but a win against the other when they meet on Sunday, will do the world of good to team morale, while also providing potential to put pressure on the sides immediately above them.

Having pushed each of Brave Lupus and Sungoliath close for periods during their last two outings, Kintetsu will fancy themselves, even though Heat produced their best defensive effort of the season last weekend, holding an opponent to under 30 points for the first time this term.

Japan-Rugby-League-One-(Round-Ten)

Japan-Rugby-League-One-(Round-Ten)

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