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Rohan takes flight with the Eagles

JAPAN LEAGUE ONE PREVIEW: Three places and nine points separate Brave Lupus Tokyo and Yokohama Eagles, as the semifinalists from the previous two years meet in a contest that shapes up as having important ramifications for the Eagles in particular.

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Back in the top four last term, the Eagles are reeling from the potentially season-ending injuries to star Springboks, scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and centre Jesse Kriel, and facing a gap to the semifinal positions on the ladder that will become increasingly worrying should they fail to beat Brave Lupus.

If the Eagles have an advantage, it is that they featured in the Cross Border Rugby series, which has allowed a competitive outing in the four weeks since Brave Lupus last took the field.

An understrength Eagles outfit might have been well-beaten by the Blues, but their 22-57 loss came with no extra cost, in terms of injuries, while the arrival of Springbok midfield back Rohan Janse Van Rensburg from the Sharks of the United Rugby Championship, has bolstered their backline resources.

The 29-year-old will make his introduction to the league from the bench.

Brave Lupus, who are seeking to maintain momentum after an excellent start which sees them unbeaten after six matches, know all about the importance of not losing touch with the pacesetters.

After losing five of their first nine matches, the 2022 semifinalists left themselves with too much to do last season, despite walking a tightrope through the latter stages of their campaign, where a run of six consecutive wins came too late to recover the earlier lost ground.

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Brave Lupus’ response was the off-season recruitment of Richie Mo’unga and Shannon Frizell.

At a time when the Eagles’ international Test ranks have been emasculated, the star All Black pair have lifted Brave Lupus to a new level, with Mo’unga already fourth on the individual point-scoring charts, while Wild Knights centre Dylan Riley and Verblitz wing Taichi Takahashi are the only players to have registered more than the six tries scored thus far by Frizell.

Saturday’s other matches as Round Seven of Division One is completed see the Spears look to continue their climb up the table from seventh when they meet the still winless Kintetsu Liners, while sixth-placed Blue Revs could jump into the top four should the Eagles slip up while they win at Sagamihara Dynaboars.

Ending the weekend in the top four is also mathematically possible for the Steelers should they win on Sunday after the three teams immediately above them have lost, but the sole focus for Dave Rennie’s men against the Black Rams Tokyo will be to build on their excellent 31-27 win over the Eagles in the last round, which snapped a run of three straight defeats.

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Neither the Steelers nor Black Rams featured in the Cross Border Rugby series, meaning this will be the first competitive outing for both sides since January 27, when the Black Rams were left stuck on one win after losing a cliffhanger by one point against Kubota following the concession of an injury-time penalty goal.

Having made a similar start last term, where they had won only twice by the time the season reached its midpoint, Australian coach Peter Hewat will be hoping his side can spring into life as it did then when the Black Rams won four of the last eight to push away from the bottom three and the relegation jeopardy associated with the Replacement Battle.

One of the ‘victims’ during that run was the Steelers, with Black Ram’s 41-26 win helping them to an eventual seventh-placed finish.

Round Six in Division Two concludes on Saturday when Wayne Pivac’s Green Rockets reappear after a 20-day lay-off to face the Voltex, whose last outing was a heavy loss to Aichi, five weeks ago.

While success for the former Wales coach’s charges, against an opponent they beat 41-24 in an earlier meeting, won’t change their third-placed position on the points table, it would leave all three front-runners in the grade with identical five-win, one-loss records.

The second Hiroshima Derby of the year headlines Division Three, as the Red Regulions bid for a double over SkyActivs, while the Blue Sharks will be seeking to repeat their 38-20 win over Akishima from the last round.

The Blue Sharks have been boosted by the return of flyhalf Lima Sopoaga, with the dual New Zealand/Samoa international in line for his first outing since just before Christmas after being named on the bench.

Japan Rugby League One Fixtures Round Seven – Part Two – (all kick-offs Japan Time)

Division One

Saturday, February 24:
Sagamihara Dynaboars v Blue Revs (14.00)
Brave Lupus Tokyo v Yokohama Eagles (14.05)
Kintetsu Liners v Spears (14.30)

Sunday, February 25:
Black Rams Tokyo v Steelers (13.00)

Division Two

Saturday, February 24:
Voltex v Green Rockets (13.00)

Division Three

Saturday, February 24:
Blue Sharks v Akishima (13.00)

Sunday, February 25
Red Regulions v SkyActivs Hiroshima (15.00)

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