Round 6 of the Top League saw some big results, notably in Kobe where Kobelco Steelers produced a sensational 57-0 win against Toshiba Brave Lupus to make it six wins from six for the campaign.
Panasonic Wild Knights are the only other side with a 100% win-rate this season as they maintained pole position by beating NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes.
Meanwhile, Yamaha Jubilo put 69 points past Mitsubishi Dynaboars in Nagoya to keep in touch with the top two of Panasonic and Kobelco.
Here’s who impressed us from Round 6 of the Top League.
1. Shintaro Ishihara (Suntory)
There’s no finer sight in rugby than a prop bulldozing through the defensive line. A couple of rare breaks for the Suntory loosehead sees him secure the No. 1 jersey in this week’s team, including a solo run that led to Takaaki Nakazuru’s third try of the game against Hino Red Dolphins.
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Turning 30 in June, Ishihara’s Brave Blossoms career may be behind him having not featured for Japan since 2018. However, he could find himself as an alternate option in the front row for Jamie Joseph if he continues to rampage through defences as he did in Tokyo at the weekend.
2. Yusuke Niwai (Canon)
On the 22nd day of the 2nd month of the year, it had to be the Canon No. 2 that put in a man-of-the-match performance against Sanix.
Captaining the side, the former Sunwolves hooker ran the set-piece at Hanazono and was at the heart of the scrum that was key in his side’s 22-10 victory. Sanix simply could not contest with Canon’s dominant scrum and were penalised several times in the first half, leading to Niwai and Eagles taking full advantage.
3. Taichi Chiba (Ricoh)
25-year-old Chiba was duly awarded the man-of-the-match award after Ricoh’s win against NEC Green Rockets.
Ricoh were devastating in the scrum, with the tighthead prop pivotal in securing several penalties as NEC wheeled and collapsed the scrum. The win was Ricoh’s second of the season, and with favourable fixtures in the next three weeks against NTT Docomo, Hino and Mitsubishi Dynaboars, they will be hoping to add to those two wins to alleviate any potential relegation concerns that have crept in over the first few weeks of the campaign.
4. Hamish Dalzell (Panasonic)
At 201 centimetres tall, Dalzell towers over most players in his native New Zealand. In Japan, Dalzell has a good half a foot advantage over opposing players as he showed against NTT Docomo at the weekend.
Panasonic posed a constant threat from the set-piece thanks to Dalzell, executing mauls from line-outs to devastating effect to secure a 40-3 victory over Docomo at Hanazono.
5. Brodie Retallick (Kobelco)
There were many highlights from Kobelco Steeler’s nine-try thrashing of Toshiba but the sight of the 2015 World Cup winner galloping down the left wing like a thoroughbred for Steelers’ third try has to be up there.
Unlike some overseas players who come to the Top League, Retallick is certainly not here for a holiday. Not only was the All Black confident and composed with ball in hand, his work at the breakdown helped secure clean ball for the Kobelco backs and Taumua Naeata to exhibit some champagne rugby against Toshiba
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 25, 2020
6. Tom Franklin (Kobelco)
Similar to Retallick, Franklin’s work at the breakdown could not be understated on Sunday in Kobe. He limited Toshiba to minimal clean ball at the breakdown, highlighted by the fact he and his teammates prevented them from getting on the scoreboard.
The former Highlanders forward was a secure option as a jumper in the line-out too, providing the platform for Hirotaka Hirabara to touch down from a resulting maul on the full-time buzzer.
7. Kazuki Himeno (Toyota Verblitz)
There was no bigger cheer in Nagoya on Saturday than when Aichi-born Himeno burst through the gap between Sione Vatuvei and former Wallaby Bernard Foley to score the only try of the first half.
The Verblitz captain was a constant menace at the breakdown against Kubota, exemplified by his jackle after the buzzer which earned Verblitz a match-winning penalty as the hosts triumphed by two points.
One of the most promising young talents in the game right now, it’s staggering that no European move has been linked with the 25-year-old yet despite his impressive performances at the recent World Cup.
8 Taumua Naeata (Kobelco)
Taumua Naeata has been in sensational form for Kobelco Steelers this term, with the former front-row forward deployed in the No. 8 jersey as his devastating ball carrying ability has been realised.
He was instrumental in many of Steelers’ nine tries against Toshiba, with his impressive offloads paving the way for Richard Buckman and Brodie Retallick to cross the whitewash in the first 25 minutes, before touching down himself shortly after. The Tongan’s support play was second-to-none and adds another fearsome bow to Kobe’s back-line arrow when he finds himself on the wing alongside the likes of Ataata Moeakiola.
The Japan Rugby Football Union has announced plans for a new league that will replace the Top League from 2021 but the timing of the matches has yet to be confirmed.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 29, 2020
9. Koki Arai (Canon)
Scrum-half Arai’s quick thinking from a penalty close to the Sanix line led to Hosea Saumaki touching down in the first half for Canon Eagles. The 26-year-old Teikyo graduate, who has represented Japan at youth level, was quick to the breakdown and kept the phases flowing for Canon as they secured their first win of February.
10 Matt McGahan (Ricoh)
It wasn’t only in the scrum that Ricoh won the game against NEC. Fly-half McGahan’s decision making at No. 10 was crucial in creating breathing space between the two sides at the weekend.
The 26-year-old is developing a solid understanding with halves partner Matt Lucas, as was evident against NEC, with McGahan running an arrowing line following a pass from Lucas, before offloading to Keagan Faria for the first score. A clever swivel and spin from McGahan in the second half perplexed the Green Rockets defence as he galloped to his first try for Ricoh.
11. Malo Tuitamu (Yamaha)
Quite frankly, one of the most outrageous performances the Top League has ever seen in its 17 seasons. A six-try (yes, SIX) haul against Mitsubishi Dynaboars meant we had no choice but for the former New Zealand Under-20 winger to be the first name in this week’s team.
Tuitamu’s support play saw him always at the receiving end of Yamaha offloads following breaks, while he also burst through the Dynaboars defence himself on several occasions to make it 10 tries from his three starts this season (again, yes, TEN tries). Yamaha have scored 199 points across those three games too.
Panasonic’s Koki Takeyama’s impressive brace of tries against NTT Docomo would have seen him in the side were it not for Tuitamu’s insane six-try haul.
12. Matt Giteau (Suntory)
The Wallaby centurion rolled back the years in Suntory’s thrashing of Hino to put in a masterclass performance at inside centre. Giteau combined expertly with No. 10 Hikaru Tamura, brother of Brave Blossoms’ stand-off Yu, to carve out openings for the likes of wingers Shota Emi and Takaaki Nakazuru. He orchestrated the Sungoliath ensemble to fine effect, dotting down for two tries himself and scoring 22 of his side’s 69 points overall.
13. Timothy Lafaele (Kobelco)
The Brave Blossoms centre caught the eye with his outrageous offloads at last year’s World Cup and he continues to impress in the Top League this term in his debut season for Kobelco Steelers.
His class was evident at the weekend, scoring two trademark tries in the space of five first-half minutes as Kobelco ran riot against Toshiba. His first try saw him evade two tacklers to touch down in the right corner, before running a perfect line a matter of minutes later that fooled even Japan captain Michael Leitch. In addition to the two tries, Lafaele’s handling was impeccable throughout as Kobelco ran in nine tries against a good Toshiba side.
14. Takaaki Nakazuru (Suntory)
The 2016-17 Top League top try-scorer showed why he is still one of the best Japanese finishers in the league with an 18-minute first-half hat-trick of tries against Hino Red Dolphins.
The 29-year-old winger was glued to the right touchline in the first forty, on the receiving end of offloads from the likes of Giteau and Kotaro Matsushima. The once Sunwolves man now has five tries in his three games this season and has scored in each of those matches.
15 Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz)
Now in his second stint in the Top League, le Roux’s experience shone through for Verblitz in their narrow win against Kubota.
Starting in his regular position of full-back, the Springbok was often the first receiver at the breakdown, calling the shots in the back-line. Le Roux used the wet conditions in Nagoya to his advantage with an expertly-weighted dink-kick with the outside of his left foot, which settled perfectly in the in-goal area for Honeti Taumohaapai to touch down. His quick hands also paved the way for Yuki Okada to cross in the first half, only for the elements to intervene and see the 24-year-old fumble the ball over the try-line at the last.
WATCH: Catch up on all the action from Round 6 of the Japanese Top League with these highlights.
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