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Bok concern as Wild Knights go down to Brave Lupus

MATCH REPORT: The Brave Lupus have been crowned the Japan Rugby League One champions after a 24-20 win over Wild Knights in a dramatic final in front of a crowd of 57,000 at the National Stadium in Tokyo.

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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 wing 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 wing 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.

Bok concern as Wild Knights go down to Brave Lupus

It was a very challenging day for Wild Knights, who also lost the services of Springbok Lood de Jager in the 37th minute.

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It appeared that the lock sustained a shoulder injury as he walked off the field just short of the break.

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 wing Marika Koroibete was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on his fellow Fijian, Naikabula.

The Brave Blossoms wing 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.

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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 backrow 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 wing Taiki Koyama scored after supporting Koroibete, who had received a favourable bounce from a kick in behind the line by fullback Takuya Yamasawa.

From 6-17 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 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 wing 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 semifinals.

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 wing’s try was Suntory’s second in the last five minutes, after backrow 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 wing 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.

But it wasn’t enough.

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.

 

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