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De Allende wins Bok midfield battle

JAPAN RUGBY LEAGUE ONE WRAP: The Wild Knights will meet Brave Lupus Tokyo in the Final of the third edition of Japan Rugby League One next weekend at the National Stadium in Tokyo.


The teams, who finished first and second in the rankings for the regular season, came through tight semifinals that were played in front of a combined crowd of over 30,000 at the Prince Chichibu Stadium in Tokyo.

With a large turnout expected for the final, at a venue with a 68,000 capacity, the league is poised to finish with over 1,100,000 people having attended matches, exceeding the targets set by league officials before the season kicked off.

It’s the Wild Knights again!

While few doubted the likely outcome of yesterday’s semifinal between the regular season’s first and fourth-ranked teams, the manner of the win, and the total dominance of Yokohama Eagles through much of the match will have surprised even the most ardent Wild Knights fan.

There was a big spotlight on the midfield battle in this match with Damian de Allende (Wild Knights) coming up against his Springbok and World Cup teammate Jesse Kriel (Eagles).

De Allende came out on top, and he also scored a crucial try in the 20-17 win.

After the concession of two tries in the opening nine minutes, with wing Koki Takeyama and lock Jack Cornelsen both scoring on the back of slick handling and cohesion by the Wild Knights which saw the initial bust converted into points, Yokohama almost completely dominated the following 40 minutes.

By half-time, almost all of the game’s metrics were heavily in Yokohama’s favour, except for the most important one with the Wild Knights ahead 13-3.


Eagles coach Keisuke Sawake must have been a frustrated man watching as his side failed to match the clinical nature of the Wild Knights attack, spurning several attacking chances due to the pressure exerted by their opponents’ defence.

Whatever his half-time message was, it worked spectacularly as the Eagles broke the game open straight after the break, continuing to back their set-piece despite some wobbly moments in the first half when they botched three of their line-out throws.

After winning a kickable penalty shortly after play resumed, Yokohama opted to kick for the corner and were rewarded after they executed a line-out drive expertly, driving Sione Halasili over for their opening try of the afternoon.

Selected for last year’s Brave Blossoms World Cup squad as a loose forward who can also play prop, the 24- 24-year-old was an enormous presence during his 50 minutes, finally departing after several stoppages while he was attended to by the team medics.


The Wild Knights subsequently bossed the breakdown after Halasili limped off, with loose forwards Ben Gunter and Lachlan Boshier forcing several crucial turnovers to stymie the Eagles’ momentum.

Having taken the lead when wing Masayoshi Takezawa was worked over in the corner nine minutes after Halasili had scored, Yokohama was unable to score again.

The Wild Knights responded almost immediately after Takezawa’s score with their third try, which was finished by De Allende, but owed much to flyhalf Rikiya Matsuda, who broke up the centre of the park to gain the field position from which the two-time World Cup-winning Springbok scored.

Renowned as a goal-kicker, the Brave Blossoms flyhalf had a leading hand in two of the Wild Knights’ three tries, which were initiated after he split open the Eagles’ defence.

Yokohama received a double whammy from De Allende’s try, with the Eagles surrendering the lead, while also losing Takoto Okabe for 10 minutes after the prop was yellow carded for illegally playing the ball on the ground as the Wild Knights man was in the process of picking the ball up to force it.

In the circumstances, the Eagles did well to hold the Wild Knights at bay during this period, dodging a few bullets as Saitama went close to finishing the job, but while unable to score, the six-time champions made sure that the Eagles couldn’t either, seeing out the last 21 minutes to advance to their fourth straight Final.

The win continued the almost unbelievable record of Wild Knights coach Robbie Deans, who has now won 16 of the 18 professional club semifinals that he has prepared teams for, nine of which have been during his time in Japan.

It also added to the misery for the Eagles who, as well as exiting at the semifinal stage for the second consecutive season, fell to their 16th straight loss to the Wild Knights, prolonging a run that stretches back to 2013.

Brave Lupus has made it into their first Final in a decade after coming from behind to gun down their Fuchu rivals Tokyo Sungoliath 28-20 in Sunday’s second semifinal.

Sungoliath led 10-7 at half-time after making much of the running in the first half, but a try by the outstanding Brave Lupus loose forward Takeshi Sasaki two minutes into the second period allowed his team to take the lead and they wouldn’t be headed.

The birth of Sasaki’s try was the beginning of the influence Richie Mo’unga was to have on the game, with a sweet pop pass in behind the front line of the attack allowing wing Jone Naikabula to speed through the hole that was created, before linking with his supporting teammate who finished the movement.

It was a rehearsed move executed perfectly, and it gave Brave Lupus the initiative in the contest, providing the platform from which they fashioned their victory.

Sungoliath must be wondering what it is that semifinals have in for them, having lost 18-24 to the Spears at the same stage last year, after playing 75 minutes with 14 men following the send-off of loose forward Tui Hendrick.

On Sunday, the good fortune went Brave Lupus’s way twice, firstly when Sungoliath thought they had responded to the Sasaki try with one of their own after Brave Blossoms scrumhalf Naoto Saito nipped over from the short side of an attacking ruck when the Brave Lupus defence was stretched.

Although awarded, the ‘try’ was subsequently ruled out for a needless off-the-ball clean-out which had interfered with one of the Brave Lupus defenders.

Ten minutes later, the rugby Gods smiled on Brave Lupus again, this time when there was doubt about loose forward Shannon Frizell’s casual planting of the ball for his 10th try of the season.

The 33-cap All Black should have known better after he was given a clear run to the goal-line following the good work of Brave Lupus outside backs Taichi Mano and Takuro Matsunaga.

Maybe it was too easy, as the ball appeared to slip from his grasp as he put it down, but Frizell received the benefit of the doubt on replay, which allowed Brave Lupus to extend the score to 21-13.

It became 28-13 nine minutes later when Naikabula, who came alive in the second period, linked with fellow wing Atsuki Kuwayama to race down the sideline unimpeded for Brave Lupus’ fourth try.

While the 63rd-minute try failed to knock the stuffing out of the Sungoliath effort, it did create a gap too great to bridge, even though a try six minutes from time by the Brisbane-born lock Harry Hockings closed the margin to eight points.

Hockings, who had been denied earlier in the game when bundled over the sideline as he attempted to dive for the corner, again hit the same corner, this time successfully.

In what was a theme on the day, the try came from a bungled Sungoliath line-out throw near the goal-line, which Brave Lupus failed to clean up, allowing the Australian to snap up the ball to score.

Sungoliath’s first half try, which was the 13th of the season by their hooker Kosuke Horikoshi, was also scored after they regathered from an overthrown line-out, setting up a maul from which their captain was driven over the line.

As well as being their third defeat in a Fuchu derby for the year – mirroring last term where they were beaten three times by the Spears – the loss saw Sungoliath miss out on the Final for the second time since they were beaten by the Wild Knights in the decider of the maiden Japan Rugby League One.

They have now been absent from the title-winning arena for five seasons since their last championship success in the 2017-18 season.

They have lost in the final in three of those seasons.

Sungoliath play the Eagles on Saturday in a repeat of last year’s third/fourth play-off.

Brave Lupus advance to the Final having lost just one game through the campaign, 24-36, against a side they will face in this season’s decider.

Japan Rugby League One Semifinal results:

Wild Knights 20-17 Yokohama Eagles
Brave Lupus Tokyo 28-20 Tokyo Sungoliath

The Replacement Battle Results – First Leg:

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D-Rocks 21-12 Liners
Heat 57-39 Aichi
Black Rams Tokyo 40-21 Green Rockets Tokatsu

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Seawaves 37-19 Akishima

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