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Xmas Day sees Boks in action in Japan

JAPAN LEAGUE PREVIEW: Japan Rugby’s second round of the League One kicks off this weekend and will see a host of Springboks in action.

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Faf de Klerk’s Yokohama Canon Eagles host Malcolm Marx’s Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo-Bay on Christmas Day.

De Klerk debuted off the bench for the final 26 minutes of last weekend’s impressive win over Kobe, but he and Bok teammate Jesse Kriel will know the Eagles need to go to another level as Malcolm Marx, Wallaby flyhalf Bernard Foley and All Black Ryan Crotty arrive in town, fresh from Kubota’s first win over Suntory since 2004.

As well as ending a losing streak against Suntory that dated back to 2004, last weekend showed that neither of the Spears’ overseas test stars, Marx and Wallaby flyhalf Foley, had emerged from their November exertions any worse for wear.

Perhaps the only surprise was that Suntory held Marx scoreless, given he claimed seven tries, including a hattrick, from just five outings last term.

De Klerk and Eagles centre Jesse Kriel were on the same team as Marx last month in Europe and they will know that stopping him rumbling will be an important play if they are going to stop Kubota.

The Kobelco Kobe Steelers return home to kick off the second round of Japan Rugby League One against Will Genia’s Hanazono Kintetsu Liners on Saturday.

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Kobe, who won the title four years ago under the direction of Wayne Smith, still have the Rugby World Cup-winning Black Ferns coach on board as a mentor for coach Nick Holten and his coaching team, and he will know that the Steelers can ill afford another loss, especially after losing three of their six matches at home last term.

Surprise competition leaders Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars will be chasing another upset when they host a fellow first round victor in the form of the star-studded Toyota Verblitz.

Well-travelled Kiwi, Glen Delaney, appears to have installed more resilience in the Dynaboars this year, but that will be tested by Steve Hansen’s side, who impressed for much of their win over Shizuoka.

Defending champions Saitama will be looking to make it two from two at Shizuoka, after being made to work for a narrow victory over Toshiba.

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One of the major improvers from last season, Todd Blackadder’s Brave Lupus were only denied a share of the spoils by a late penalty goal against his former Crusaders coach, Robbie Deans’ men, and will fancy their chances against the Black Rams Tokyo, who suffered the heaviest defeat of the division on the opening weekend.

Last year’s beaten finalists, Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, were also well beaten, and are sure to have had a tough week as they prepare for the visit of Michael Cheika’s NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu, who are a much-improved model from sorry outfit the Sungoliath walloped by 45 points when they last met two years ago.

Five matches will be played across the weekend in the second and third divisions, with the new merger club, Israel Folau’s Urayasu D-Rocks, at one of their home grounds for the first time when they host the Shimizu Koto Blue Sharks on Christmas Eve.

DIVISION ONE
Saturday December 24 (Christmas Eve)

KOBELCO KOBE STEELERS v HANAZONO KINTETSU LINERS
Kobe Universiade Memorial Stadium, Hyogo, 1pm (JT)

It’s only the second weekend, but the importance of not falling too far behind the tournament leaders will already be placing pressure on the Kobelco Kobe Steelers to get off the mark when they host last term’s second division champions, the Hanazono Kintetsu Liners, in their first home run-out.

Losses in the first two matches of the last campaign, and three defeats in the first four, left the 2018 champions chasing the top sides, creating a gap the Steelers were unable to bridge as they finished 17 points off the pace.

As his partnership with scrumhalf Will Genia is likely to flourish, Kintetsu coach Yoshitake Mizuma will be hoping the pair click at Kobe to cause the home side problems.

TOSHIBA BRAVE LUPUS v BLACK RAMS TOKYO
Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo, 2.30pm

Todd Blackadder’s Toshiba Brave Lupus faces the Black Ramsj and will know that there was much good from their previous performance that they can bring forward, starting with the Rams.

Ricoh coach Peter Hewat would be wishing he could say the same, after his charges failed to fire a shot first up against the Dynaboars, which is a worry considering there are many teams in the league who carry a lot more attacking firepower than do the newly promoted Mitsubishi, who breached the Rams’ try-line four times.

If the Rams are going to prevent digging themselves an early season hole, they will need to make more of the chances they created but didn’t finish against the Dynaboars.

A former Super Rugby player, most notably with the Waratahs, Australian Hewat will be looking to his senior players such as the new acquisitions, Wales midfielder Hadleigh Parkes, and England backrower Nathan Hughes, to lead the way.

Sunday December 25 (Christmas Day)

MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES SAGAMIHARA DYNOBOARS v TOYOTA VERBLITZ
Sagamihara Gion Stadium, Kanagawa, 12pm (JT)

The last time the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Dynaboars graced the elite division in Japanese club rugby two seasons ago, they failed to hold an opponent under 10 points once and leaked an average of 42 per game.

As the only bonus-point victor on the first weekend, the Dynaboars start the second round on top of the league.

They can expect a far greater test on Christmas Day though, with Toyota Verlitz unlikely to hand out any presents as they seek to build on an impressive 31-26 win over the Shizuoka Blue Revs, where they overturned a 12-point deficit, by scoring 31 unanswered points to put their visitors away.

After a gentle introduction to the new season via a 22-minute cameo, expect the Brave Blossoms’ backrow dynamo Kazuki Himeno to have a larger role for Verblitz this week, while the Dynaboars may unveil their star recruit, backline general, Matt To’omua. The last time these sides met, two seasons ago, a former Wallaby, Michael Hooper, scored twice for Verblitz.

YOKOHAMA CANON EAGLES v KUBOTA SPEARS FUNABASHI TOKYO-BAY
Showa Denko Dome Stadium, Oita, 12pm (JT)

Two impressive first round winners will meet at Oita as the Canon Eagles bid to repeat last season when they opened the campaign with two wins on the bounce.

Perhaps the aspect of last weekend’s 39-30 win over Kobe that would have impressed Eagles coach Keisuke Sawake the most was how his men held their nerve in the latter stages to see off a determined opponent, who on four different occasions replied to an Eagles score with one of their own to close to within two points.

The spectacular performance of the veteran Brave Blossoms flyhalf Yu Tamura, whose 24 points on return from injury showed that Canon’s former skipper is far from a spent force, was another big tick.

So too was the successful introduction of Springbok scrumhalf Faf de Klerk, whose debut the club hopes is the beginning of a hugely influential halves pairing with Tamura.

But while the Eagles were soaring in Yokohama, 35km up the motorway in Tokyo, Kubota were running all over last season’s beaten finalist and their serial nemesis, Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, whose 31-18 defeat provided an early hint that the race for the top four is going to be an open affair.

It wasn’t something Canon achieved last term, where Marx and Foley were both try-scorers, with the latter scoring 20 points, as the Spears beat the Eagles 50-21, in a game where Kriel also scored two tries.

TOKYO SUNTORY SUNGOLIATH v NEC GREEN ROCKETS TOKATSU
Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo, 2.30pm (JT)

Suntory are in unchartered waters.

Last season, it took until the seventh week before they tasted defeat.

A year earlier, during the truncated Covid-affected 2021 campaign, it wasn’t until the 10th week – in the grand final – that Sungoliath were beaten.

While Sungoliath bashed the Green Rockets 76-31 the last time these two met on the field (last season’s game wasn’t played due to Covid), they did have Beauden Barrett and Samu Kerevi in their ranks on that occasion.

In a performance whose determined attitude reflected that of the clubs’ highly successful Director of Rugby, Michael Cheika, the Green Rockets didn’t buckle last weekend when challenged by Kintetsu, refusing to fold after the Liners had overturned a halftime deficit to grab a five-point lead.

With a lot of old heads among the forwards, and the 130kg winger Taqele Naiyaravoro to throw in, to good effect, off the bench, the Green Rockets have the weapons to make life difficult.

SHIZUOKA BLUE REVS v SAITAMA PANASONIC WILD KNIGHTS
Yamaha Stadium, Shizuoka, 2.30pm (JT)

The Blue Revs prepare to host a Saitama side who needed 81 minutes to beat them, thanks to an after the siren try from the Aussie-born Brave Blossom Jack Cornelsen, which was coolly converted by the Wild Knights’ test flyhalf, Rikiya Matsuda.

Matsuda promises to be a major threat again, having made a pleasing return from an injury that saw him miss last term’s playoffs, as well as Japan’s test programme.
The Brave Blossoms star had scored 168 points – the second most in the league – prior to his untimely injury.

DIVISION TWO

After fending off a fierce challenge from MIE Honda Heat to inaugurate with a win, merger club Urayasu D-Rocks will be looking to start at home, as they did away, when they welcome the Shimizu Koto Blue Sharks to one of their home bases, at the Yodoko Sakura Stadium in Osaka.

The Heat are the first side in the division to make the long trip north – in their case it’s a journey of over 1000km – to Iwate, to visit the Kamaishi Seawaves.

Frustrated they let the D-Rocks escape, the Heat will arrive on the seaside to find a home side buoyed by its 26- point comeback in the second spell, after a terrible opening 40 minutes left them trailing the Hino Red Dolphins 33-0 at half-time.

The Christmas Day clash between the Shuttles and Dolphins shapes as the game of the round, with the teams coming off contrasting performances in their season openers.

While everything worked like clockwork in the first 40 minutes of the Dolphins season, before loosening in the second period, a mid-game slumber saw the JAPANShuttles relinquish a 15-0 advantage, to trail by four, before a late surge put both the Blue Sharks, and the possibility of an upset, to bed.

Saturday December 24
URAYASU D-ROCKS v SHIMIZU KOTO BLUE SHARKS at Osaka, 12pm (JT)

Sunday December 25
KAMAISHI SEAWAVES RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB v MIE HONDA HEAT at Iwata, 12pm (JT)
TOYOTA INDUSTRIES CORPORATION SHUTTLES AICHI v HINO RED DOLPHINS at Aichi, 2.30pm (JT)

DIVISION THREE

Former Wallaby Wycliff Palu’s Kurita Water Gush Akishima enters the fray in the second week of Division three, and the test backrower will be aiming for a good start against a Kyushudenryoku Kyuden Voltex side that will be smarting after letting the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes off the hook in Osaka last weekend.

Palu’s men will be keen to play but are going to need to show improvement on last term when they won just once.

The Chugoku Electric Power Red Regulions host the Red Hurricanes in the division’s Christmas Day match.

Saturday December 24
KYUSHUDENRYOKU KYUDEN VOLTEX v KURITA WATER GUSH AKISHIMA at Fukuoka, 3pm (JT)

Sunday December 25
CHUGOKU ELECTRIC POWER RED REGULIONS v NTT DOCOMO RED HURRICANES at Okayama, 2.30pm (JT)

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