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Super Rugby audition as Japan clubs host Chiefs and Blues

PREVIEW: The Cross-Border Rugby competition between leading clubs from Japan Rugby League One and Super Rugby Pacific kicks off on Saturday when the five-time Japanese champions Suntory Sungoliath battle the three-time Super Rugby champions the Blues.

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The much-awaited series, which is the first between Japanese corporate clubs and New Zealand sides, includes two matches on its opening weekend.

First Suntory Sungoliath take on the Blues and on Sunday last year’s Super Rugby finalists, the Chiefs travel to League One’s current log leaders Wild Knights.

The Chiefs were formerly coached by current Kobe Steelers boss Dave Rennie, who won two titles with the club in
2012 and 2013, while five-time Crusaders Super Rugby-winning coach Robbie Deans is in charge at the Wild Knights.

The coaching links reflect the close relations between Japan and New Zealand, which are reinforced by this historic series.

While the games are outside of any formal competitions and will be played under trial conditions, Japan Rugby League One officials believe the Border Rugby will be the start of a long-term connection between the countries at club level.

The Blues, who are under new management with former Scotland boss Vern Cotter taking over, arrive in Japan looking to build on last season’s campaign, where they made the semifinals before losing to the defending champion Crusaders.

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Cotter has named a strong squad, including several All Blacks, to meet Sungoliath, who are third in the league, having won five of its six games to date.

The home side will rely on their new signings Springboks star Cheslin Kolbe and All Blacks Sam Cane.

The team will also introduce its new marquee signing, the star Los Pumas flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez, as he makes his debut for the club.

This is Sungoliath’s second encounter with Super Rugby opposition, having lost a close match with the Brumbies of Australia in the Japanese pre-season late last year.

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The Wild Knights have also played Super Rugby opposition during this campaign, losing by two with a developmental  XV in their annual clash against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane late last year.

Cross-Border Rugby is the start of a frequent association between teams from Japan and New Zealand in 2024, with both the Maori All Blacks and the All Blacks, set to visit later in the year.

The Maori All Blacks play a Japan XV on June 29, and July 6 while the Brave Blossoms tackle the All Blacks on October 26.

The Cross-Border Rugby 2024

(all kick-offs Japan time)

Saturday, February 3

Suntory Sungoliath v Blues – 12.00

Sunday, February 4

Wild Knights v Chiefs; 14.30

Saturday, February 10

Eagles v Blues; 12.10

Kubota Spears v Chiefs; 14.30

Division Two fixtures

(all times Japan Time)

Saturday, February 3

Urayasu D-Rocks v Red Hurricanes Osaka; 13.00

Sunday, February 4

NEC Green Rockets v Seawaves; 14.30

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