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Top two teams to unleash their Bok arsenal

PREVIEW: As Japan Rugby League One heads into Round 16, and with the semi-finals just two weeks away, the two top teams are vying for positions and will unleash their Springboks this weekend.

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The Kubota Spears, coached by Frans Ludeke, can top the rankings if they can beat Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath a second time this season.

Ludeke has a few aces up his sleeve, and none more threatening than Springbok Malcolm Max.

Ludeke’s main goal will be to ensure Kubota maintains momentum heading into the playoffs, while landing a psychological blow on its likely semi-final rivals. To achieve this, he has named a full-strength side, with international test stars Marx, Bernard Foley and Ryan Crotty all starting.

Ahead of the Spears on the log are the Wild Knights, but after coach Robbie Deans was forced to change his entire starting pack as well as missing a few key backs during last weekend’s loss, he will also bring in the big guns. That includes two Springboks, Damien de Allende and Lood de Jager.

Should Saitama beat Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo on Friday night, they cannot be caught on the championship table and will enter the semi-finals, in two weeks, as top seed.

This would throw the finalists from the last two championships into a sudden death semi-final.

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A Toshiba win would also take the race for the last place in the playoffs to the final game of the regular season, putting additional pressure on a Yokohama Canon Eagles outfit that has lost two of its last four, as it plays a stuttering Kobelco Kobe Steelers.

The scrap for placings in Division One is not just limited to the top end of the standings.
The ‘mini league’ that developed between the sides below the semi-final contenders also reaches its climax when Panasonic’s conquerors, Shizuoka Blue Revs, host Toyota Verblitz, with sixth place up for grabs.

At the bottom, Hanazono Kintetsu Liners have Wallaby star Quade Cooper back as they face NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu in a game that will decide the wooden spoon, as well as who plays who in the Replacement Battle.

Although Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars are already pencilled in for a date with Toyota Industries Shuttles Aichi, there is still one tie to go in Division Two’s Finalisation series, with the winner between Urayasu D-Rocks and Mie Honda Heat to play the loser of the Kintetsu/NEC match.

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Adding interest to that contest, dual international Israel Folau has been named on the Urayasu bench, having not been sighted since the third game of the season in mid-January.

Plenty to play for, and a fitting end to 16 rounds of qualifying that has provided a lot of interest and is set for a fascinating finish.

DIVISION ONE

Friday, April 21

TOSHIBA BRAVE LUPUS TOKYO v SAITAMA PANASONIC WILD KNIGHTS
Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo, 7pm (JT)

Saturday, April 22

KUBOTA SPEARS FUNABASHI TOKYO BAY v TOKYO SUNTORY SUNGOLIATH
Spears Edoriku Field (formerly Edogawa Athletic Stadium), Tokyo, 2pm (JT)

MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES SAGAMIHARA DYNABOARS v RICOH BLACK RAMS TOKYO
Sagamihara Gion Stadium, Kanagawa, 2pm (JT)

HANAZONO KINTETSU LINERS v NEC GREEN ROCKETS TOKATSU
Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka, 2pm (JT)

Sunday, April 23

SHIZUOKA BLUE REVS v TOYOTA VERBLITZ
Yamaha Stadium, Shizuoka, 2pm (JT)

KOBELCO KOBE STEELERS v YOKOHAMA CANON EAGLES
Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka, 2pm (JT)

DIVISIONS TWO & THREE

Saturday, April 22

URAYASU D-ROCKS v MIE HONDA HEAT
SHIMIZU CORPORATION KOTO BLUE SHARKS v KAMAISHI SEAWAVES RFC

Sunday, April 23

KURITA WATER GUSH AKISHIMA v CHUGOKU ELECTRIC POWER RED REGULIONS
KYUSHU ELECTRIC POWER KYUDEN VOLTEX v MAZDA SKYACTIVS HIROSHIMA

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