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Springbok 'trials' in Japan

JAPAN LEAGUE PREVIEW: Second plays third in what shapes as a big weekend for the second edition of Japan Rugby League One.

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Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay meets Yokohama Canon Eagles in a clash that will draw plenty of attention beyond Japan itself, most notably in South Africa where Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber is sure to be keeping an eye on the big-name players involved.

While star scrumhalf Faf de Klerk has wielded an enormous influence for Canon Eagle, who have lost just twice since he joined the club at the start of the season; Kubota have their own South African talisman in Springbok Malcolm Marx, with the hooker leading the line amongst a strong South African contingent at the Tokyo-based club.

Kubota, who are coached by the two-time Super Rugby-winning Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, have seven South African-born players on the roster including the naturalised Japan rep Pieter ‘Lappies’ Labuschagne, who led the Brave Blossoms last year.

Wallaby Bernard Foley’s ‘shootout’ with Canon’s Brave Blossoms marksman Yu Tumara adds another dimension to the contest, while Canon coach Keisuke Sawaki will be hoping for plenty from De Klerk’s Springbok teammate Jesse Kriel, who has four tries so far this season. So too does Wales second-row Cory Hill, who has proved an outstanding acquisition for the Eagles after joining
last year and may yet be on the radar of national coach Warren Gatland.

Saturday’s winner will not only take second place on the ladder, but they will also receive a significant psychological boost as the competition begins its final phase in the run into the semi-finals, at which point the two sides could meet again.

While Kubota and Canon slug it out, leaders Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights and fourth-placed Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath will be heavily favoured to repeat their convincing victories over Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars and Hanazono Kintetsu Liners from earlier in the season.

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Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo meet the unpredictable Shizuoka Blue Revs, while both Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo and Kobelco Kobe Steelers face potentially challenging engagements with Toyota Verblitz and Green Rockets respectively.

Leaders Urayasu D-Rocks have the bye in Division Two as their nearest rivals, Mie Honda Heat, look to stay in touch on the point table, while last weekend’s winners, NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes and Mazda Skyactivs Hiroshima clash in Division Three.

DIVISION ONE

Friday, March 17

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TOKYO SUNTORY SUNGOLIATH v HANAZONO KINTETSU LINERS
(Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo, 19.00 Japan time)

Saturday, March 18

RICOH BLACK RAMS TOKYO v SHIZUOKA BLUE REVS
(Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo, 14.30 Japan Time)

KUBOTA SPEARS FUNABASHI TOKYO BAY v YOKOHAMA CANON EAGLES
(Edogawa Athletic Stadium, Tokyo, 14.30 Japan Time)

TOYOTA VERBLITZ v TOSHIBA BRAVE LUPUS TOKYO
(Paloma Mizuho Rugby Stadium, Aichi, 14.30 Japan Time)

Sunday, March 19

MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES SAGAMIHARA DYNABOARS v SAITAMA PANASONIC WILD KNIGHTS
(Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo, 14.30 Japan Time)

KOBELCO KOBE STEELERS v NEC GREEN ROCKETS TOKATSU
(Kobe Sports Park Universiade Memorial Stadium, Hyogo, 14.30 Japan time)

DIVISION TWO

Sunday, March 19

KAMAISHI SEAWAVES RFC v SHIMUZU CORPORATION KOTO BLUES SHARKS at Iwate
TOYOTA INDUSTRIES SHUTTLES AICHI v MIE HONDA HEAT at Aichi

DIVISION THREE

Saturday, March 18

KYUSHU ELECTRIC POWER KYUDEN VOLTEX v KURITA WATER GUSH AKISHIMA at Fukuoka

Sunday, March 19

MAZDA SKYACTIVS HIROSHIMA v NTT DOCOMO RED HURRICANES at Ehime

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