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De Jager's role massive in table-top clash in Japan

PREVIEW: Round Nine of the Japan Rugby League One is hotting up where things could not have gone much better so far for Brave Lupus side.

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Like Brave Lupus, Wild Knights are unbeaten and they remain a point ahead of the Lupus in the table after another brace of tries from the prolific lock Lood de Jager helped them to a 45-19 win at BlueRevs.

Brave Lupus’ two star All Black signings have bedded into the new surroundings quickly, and the team is unbeaten after eight straight wins, with the run impressively including success against all the sides immediately around them on the championship table.

These two teams meet in a decisive top-of-the-table clash in Saitama on Saturday, with at least one of the two one hundred per cent records in the Japan league set to end after both won their matches in round eight last weekend.

Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, who is the third highest point-scorer in the league with 89 points, has a big part to play in Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash.

But so too does his opposite Rikiya Matsuda, especially as Brave Lupus are the fourth most penalised side in the league, with only the bottom three having given up more than their 85 penalties.

A continuation of that trend could be fatal, especially as Matsuda is only two points shy of a century for the season, himself.

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Verblitz will also be looking to their All Black flyhalf for inspiration as they look to put last week’s disastrous collapse against Kobe Steelers behind them.

Shipping 42 points in 40 minutes hardly bodes well for Verblitz’s semifinal prospects, especially as their star foursome of All Black halves Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith, and international forwards, South African Pieter Steph du Toit and Brave Blossoms skipper Kazuki Himeno, were all party to their unfathomable second half flop.

Having dropped to a 50 percent win rate after the first eight rounds, a similar story is unfolding for Steve Hansen’s men as has played in each of the last two seasons, where inconsistency early in the piece left Verblitz too far behind to become a player in title calculations.

Saturday’s opponents, Kubota Spears are also skating on thin ice, and are not going to be helped by the absence of all three of their foreign test men; fullback Liam Williams, flyhalf Bernard Foley and hooker Dane Coles.

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The defending champions’ surprise loss to an impressive Dynaboars has left the Spears sixth at the halfway stage, after they were unbeaten at this point last term.

While they are only three points from the current top four, Kubota have still to face the Wild Knights, Brave Lupus, Kobe Steelers, and Sungoliath in a tricky run home, which means the margin of error for Frans Ludeke’s side is narrowing fast.

Despite injuries to key players, third-placed Sungoliath look nailed on semifinalists, currently six points clear of Eagles who are fifth.

Veteran Wallaby flyhalf Quade Cooper’s side are getting closer to tipping up someone. Suntory will be pulling out all stops to make sure it is not against them.

After consecutive losses, they lie fourth from bottom, and needing to affect a major turnaround against the Eagles if they are to remain in the semi-final conversation.

Mitsubishi might be only two places above the Black Rams, but their season is on the upswing after taking eight points from their last two games, where they beat the Blue Revs and the Spears.

The Dynaboars could be a tricky assignment, even though rampant Kobe’s stars are hitting top form, which was illustrated by last week’s breathtaking demolition of Verblitz where the World Rugby Player of the Year, All Black Ardie Savea, helped himself to four tries.

Now into the top four, the Steelers will take some stopping, but the Dynaboars will aiming to give the Kanagawa faithful something to shout about in the final Division One game of the weekend.

Fixtures: 

Division One

Saturday, March 9
Kubota Spears v Verblitz; at Osaka
Eagles v Blue Revs; at Oita
Sungoliath v Kintetsu Liners; at Tokyo
Wild Knights v Brave Lupus; at Kumagaya

Sunday, March 10
Heat v Black Rams Tokyo; at Suzuka
Dynaboars v Kobe Steelers; at Kanagawa

Division Two

Sunday, March 10
Seawaves v Kyuden Voltex; at Kamaishi
Green Rockets Tokatsu v Red Hurricanes Osaka; at Chiba

Division Three

Saturday, March 9
Akishima v Red Dolphins; at Tokyo
Red Regulions v Blue Sharks; at Hiroshima

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