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Springboks add to the spoils in Japan

WRAP: Springboks Cheslin Koble and Kwagga Smith were on the list of scorers in the Japan Rugby League One for their respective teams over the weekend, ensuring victories for the Blue Revs and Suntory Sungolaith.

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Skipper Smith scored two tries, which took the South African World Cup winner’s career tally in Japan to 19 from 26 appearances. and Kolbe scoring his maiden Japan Rugby League One try.

Things aren’t getting any better for Kubota Spears.

Sunday’s 24-20 loss to Brave Lupus Tokyo has left the defending champions languishing ninth on the competition ladder with an increasingly large margin opening between themselves and the current top four.

That group includes Toshiba whose fourth win of the season retains second place on the competition table, one point behind the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights.

While maiden Japan Rugby League One tries from Kubota’s new recruits, All Black hooker Dane Coles, and Wales fullback Liam Williams, bookended their performance, the defending champions fell behind to two first half tries by the Brave Lupus pair of scrumhalf Yuhei Sugiyama and fullback Takuro Matsuaga, with the accurate boot of All Black flyhalf Richie Mo’unga ensuring they stayed there.

Although the All Blacks’ afternoon ended six minutes early due to a yellow card for dangerous play, setting up a frantic finale when Williams scored to close the gap to four, the Michael Leitch-led Brave Lupus did enough to see the game out, inflicting a first ever defeat on Kubota at their Edogawa base.

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The Spears were not helped when their Wallaby flyhalf Bernard Foley pulled out before the game, although they were not let down by goal-kicking, with South African-born Japan international Gerhard van den Heever goaling three from three.

The Eagles also ended the weekend in the top four after last season’s semifinalists edged Sagamihara Dynaboars 40-35 in an entertaining contest, coming from behind to claim the spoils after trailing 22- 20 at halftime.

Sagamihara had made a brilliant start, and led 22-3 after the opening quarter, but lost that momentum, primarily due to the finishing skills of the Eagles’ exciting winger Burua Inoke, whose two tries before the break brought Yokohama back into the game.

A breakout star during the Eagles’ return to the playoffs last term after a long absence, when he scored 13 tries from 15 appearances, the 24-year-old former Fijian age-grade representative has now scored four from as many appearances this season.

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While Inoke’s efforts gave Canon a foothold in the game, it was two tries in two minutes from another Fijian-born player, centre Viliame Takayawa, that allowed Yokohama to skip clear.

Sagamihara kept battling, and gained a bonus point for finishing within seven when former Wallaby pivot Matt Too’mua kicked a penalty goal with four minutes to play, but the Eagles successfully negotiated the remaining time to seal the win.

Too’mua had an interesting afternoon, scoring 15 points in his first outing for the season, which included a dropped goal, but he also received a yellow card for a professional foul, one minute before the end.

Blue Revs had no trouble in their third game, waltzing home 62-13 against an out-gunned Mie Heat.

With skipper Kwagga Smith scoring two tries, which took the South African World Cup winner’s career tally in Japan to 19 from 26 appearances, Shizuoka finished with 10 overall; hooker Takeshi Hino also grabbing himself a try-scoring double.

Heat were not helped by the first half yellow card awarded against their off-season recruit from Super Rugby Mitchell Hunt, for repeated team infringements, while they continue to miss the influence of their star player from last season’s promotion run, former Argentine captain Pablo Matera, who has yet to return from a leg injury sustained at the Rugby World Cup.

The day the wheels fell off

A 27-5 lead just before halftime.

A World Cup-winning coach and star international players calling the tune.

That’s a sure thing, isn’t it?

It probably should have been, but wasn’t for Verblitz on Saturday, as Wild Knights ran riot in the second period, swamping Steve Hansen’s men 35-0 in the final 40 minutes to record a spectacular 43-27 victory.

The visitors were all over last year’s finalists for much of the first half, with All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith leading the way as Verblitz piled on four tries, the third scored by the New Zealander, to romp to a 22-point advantage in the 39th minute.

Saitama have a history of rising from the grave though, and they did so again, carving the Verblitz defence to pieces with five tries, two of which were scored by the Australian-born Brave Blossoms pair, Jack Cornelsen and centre Dylan Riley.

By the time the Wild Knights had finished, the record of having lost just once at their Kumagaya fortress since 2019 was intact, with the 43-27 victory maintaining their position at the top-of-the-table.

It also sent out a warning to New Zealand Super Rugby side, the Chiefs, who visit the Wild Knights on the first weekend of the Cross-Border series on February 3.

Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, who also feature on the first weekend of that series when they host the Blues, were equally impressive as they came from 26-20 down at halftime to inflict back-to-back defeats on former Wallaby coach Dave Rennie’s Kobelco Steelers, winning the game 44-36.

With ex-All Black midfielder Ngane Laumape scoring his third try in four appearances for the season, Kobe out- scored Sungoliath four-tries-to-two in the first half and wound up a try ahead on the count by game’s end, but it didn’t prove enough thanks to a super goalkicking performance by Suntory’s stand-in flyhalf Mikiya Takamoto.

In the hot seat while Suntory’s Argentine international replacement Nicolas Sanchez prepares for his debut in Japan, the 22-year-old kicked at 100 percent, with his excellence off the tee proving the difference, given Kobe’s former Chiefs’ man Bryn Gatland missed three of his six attempts.

After trailing by six at the break, Suntory upped the ante when play resumed, scoring the next 21 points, which included South African two-time World Cup-winner Cheslin Kolbe’s maiden Japan Rugby League One try.

Down 41-26, Kobe managed two late tries, the first by skipper and All Black lock Brodie Retallick, but they fell one short of picking up a bonus point for finishing within seven.

Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo collected the extra point on a dramatic afternoon at Yumunoshima, where Wallaby star Quade Cooper made his return for Kintetsu Liners but was sinbinned after just 11 minutes as his side crashed to a 41-14 defeat.

The 35-year-old flyhalf was marched as punishment for his side’s repeated infringements, and it proved a costly absence, as Ricoh scored three converted tries during his banishment to establish to a 21-0 lead.

Former England Nathan Hughes got things started with his third try of the campaign, while Queensland fullback Isaac Lucas scored in the second half as the Black Rams finished with six tries to crown their first win of the season with a maximum return.

The defeat means Kintetsu has made a 0 from 4 starts, conceding an alarming average of 46.5 points through those matches, a statistic ‘bettered’ only by Honda, who have leaked points at the disastrous currency of 63 per outing.

Kyushu Kyuden Voltex got their win season under way at the fourth attempt, holding off Japan Steel Kamaishi Seawaves 20-11 in a Division Two’s only match on Saturday.

Bidding for their first win of the campaign, Voltex trailed after an early try by the New Zealand-born former Brave Blossoms utility back Jamie Henry, before scoring three of their own to surge to a 17-8 halftime advantage.

Veteran former Japanese international Akihito Yamada scored the first of the home side’s tries, and former Scotland international Phil Burleigh claimed the third, with the ex-All Black Tom

Taylor converted two of them and added a penalty goal. Taylor’s second goal, 13 minutes from time, sealed the deal, after the Seawaves had briefly threatened a comeback when flyhalf Kazushi Ochi closed the gap to six points, four minutes earlier.

Former Wallaby Wycliff Palu’s Akishima also claimed their first win of the season in Division Three, bouncing back from a four-point deficit at halftime to beat Chugoku Electric Power Red Regulions 39-24 at Tokyo’s AGF Field.

Aided by 14 points from the boot of their ex-England international flyhalf Piers Francis, Water Gush motored away with the second half, doubling their score during a 12-minute burst midway through the second half, which turned a 17-17 tie into a 34-17 lead.

The concession of a try, three minutes from time, represented the only blot on the outing for the victors, denying them a try-scoring bonus from the five-try-to-three victory.

The try-scoring bonus point was no problem for leaders Red Dolphins, who completed a losing double for the Hiroshima-based sides after they thumped SkyActivs Hiroshima 61-17 at the city’s Balcom stadium.

While it took the visitors 13 minutes to crack the SkyActivs defence, the floodgates opened from that point, with the Red Dolphins scoring five tries in the first half and four in the second.

Eight of the nine were converted by the well-travelled New Zealand flyhalf Simon Hickie, who finished with 16 Points.

Japan Rugby League One Results Round Four

Division One
Saturday, January 6

Wild Knights 43-27 Verblitz at Kumagaya
Black Rams Tokyo 41-14 Kintetsu Liners at Yuminoshima
Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath 44-36 Kobelco Kobe Steelers at Tokyo

Sunday, January 7
Blue Revs 62-13 Mie Honda Heat  at Suzuka (Mie)
Eagles 40-35 Sagamihara Dynaboars at Tokyo
Brave Lupus Tokyo 24 -20 Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay at Edogawa (Tokyo)

Division Two
Saturday, January 6
Kyuden Voltex 20 -11 Kamaishi Seawaves at Fukuoka

Division Three
Saturday, January 6
Red Dolphins 61-17 SkyActivs Hiroshima at Hiroshima
Gush Akishima 39 -24 Chugoku Red Regulions at Tokyo

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