Bok stars to square off as Verblitz face Eagles
JAPAN LEAGUE ONE, ROUND NINE: Their attention might be drifting towards each other but neither Wild Knights nor Kubota Spears can afford to take their eyes off this weekend’s opponents, as Japan Rugby League One’s remaining unbeaten sides play their final match before a potential top-of-the-table showdown.
Fresh from a thumping win over the Sagamihara Dynaboars, the Kubota Spears will be looking to limit the offensive opportunities of the free-scoring Brave Lupus Tokyo who – despite losing their last two – still scored 82 points in those matches.
While Brave Lupus remain fifth, the back-to-back losses have seen them slip five points off Yokohama Eagles, and they are in danger of falling further after Kobelco Kobe Steelers’ last-gasp win over Blue Revs in Match Day Eight closed the gap to just two log points.
Although they have won their last two, for Kobe to continue their climb up the table they must scale Japan Rugby League One’s equivalent of Mt Fuji when they confront the league’s top dog, the Wild Knights.
For all their class, Wild Knights have never been entirely comfortable against Kobe, who felled the current defending champions enroute to their own title in 2018.
Each of the third-placed Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, and Yokohama Canon Eagles in fourth, can also anticipate challenging matches as they visit Blue Revs and Toyota Verblitz respectively.
Not for the first time this season, the Blue Revs will be kicking themselves for letting go of a game they appeared to control, botching a 29-15 advantage while losing to Kobe last Sunday, but they have always been at their best when underrated, and most especially at Yamaha Stadium.
“We’ve created chances, we are [not] taking them,” Springbok Albertus Kwagga Smith told media after that loss.
“I think it is a problem of personal skills and execution ability, which leads to the fact that we are missing tries.
“However, I don’t think we are the same team as last year. We are improving steadily. This is evident in the fact that we have conceded fewer goals [tries] than last year.”
Verblitz are quietly working up a head of steam, and while last weekend’s win over Green Rockets Tokatsu wasn’t earth-shattering, coming from behind late in the game to get the job done was a sign of progress for a side that had all too often let promising opportunities slip earlier in the season.
Last weekend’s ploy to relocate Springbok fullback Willie le Roux to first receiver worked a treat, increasing Toyota’s attacking threat, while their work over the ball at the breakdown, especially by classy backrowers Kazuki Himeno and Pieter Steph du Toit, denied the Green Rockets momentum at critical stages.
Du Toit will know the importance of disrupting Yokohama Eagles’ talisman, his Springbok teammate Faf de Klerk, given the star halfback has been the fulcrum of an Eagles’ attack that has scored 43 tries, second only to Kubota.
With one win in eight, the Green Rockets will try again when they visit the faltering Dynaboars, while Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo will be aiming to push clear of the relegation places when they host the still-winless Hanazono Kintetsu Liners.
In Division Two, headline acts, Urayasu D-Rocks, return after a two-week break when they travel to Aichi to face the Toyota Industries Shuttles in one of two games in Division Two, while the sole action in Division Three sees a top-of-the-table clash between Kyushu Electric Kyuden Voltex and NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes Osaka.
Saturday, February 25
Black Rams v Hanazono Liners
(Komazawa Olympic Park Athletic Stadium, Tokyo – Kick-off:12.00 (JT))
Spears v Brave Lupus Tokyo
(Edogawa Athletic Stadium, Tokyo – Kick-off: 12.00 (JT))
Blue Revs v Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath
(Yamaha Stadium, Iwata Shizuoka – Kick-off: 14.30 (JT))
Toyata Verblitz v Yokohama Eagles
(Paloma Mizuho Rugby Stadium, Aichi – Kick-off: 14.20 (JT))
Sunday, February 26
Sagamihara Dynaboars v Green Rockets Tokatsu
(Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo – Kick-off: 12.00 (JT))
Kobe Steelers v Wild Knights
(Kobe Sports Park Universiade Memorial Stadium, Hyogo – Kick-off: 14.30 (JT))