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All Black absent but Brave Lupus get job done

Richie Mo'unga receives his silver medal after the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup final loss. Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images

Todd Blackadder’s Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo are through to the semi-finals of Japan Rugby League One after a thrilling 40-40 draw with Kobelco Kobe Steelers in Tokyo today.

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Brave Lupus, who were without their All Black Richie Mo’unga after the flyhalf’s father Saimone passed away last week, did their absent star proud in the first half as they feasted on a host of errors by the visitors to race to a 33-14 halftime advantage.

Mo’unga’s understudy, Takuro Matsunaga, converted four of the five Brave Lupus tries in the first 40 minutes, as well as their sole second-half score, which proved critical as his side gradually wilted in the face of a furious Kobe riposte.

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Richie Mo’unga is the key to the All Blacks’ World Cup | The Breakdown

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Richie Mo’unga is the key to the All Blacks’ World Cup | The Breakdown

Playing as if the second period was their grand final – which it may well prove to have been – Kobe dominated territory and possession, but were initially held up by resilient defence, which forced a steady stream of errors as nerves kicked in and attackers turned over possession through forced passes or loose carries in contact.

Even so, Dave Rennie’s side kept coming, and the former Wallaby coaches’ men looked like they might escape when the weight of the defensive effort finally took its’ toll on their opponents.

Three tries between the 66th minute and the sixth minute of referee’s time, which consisted almost entirely of re-set scrums on the Brave Lupus goal-line, finally produced a result for Kobe, with All Black Shannon Frizell sin-binned.

Fixture
Japan Rugby League One
Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo
36 - 27
Full-time
Tokyo Sungoliath
All Stats and Data

This allowed the Steelers to exploit the additional space created by his absence for winger Junta Hamano to score out wide.
That left former Chiefs flyhalf Bryn Gatland, the competition’s leading point-scorer, with the chance to win the game but having kicked two goals from balls that struck the goalpost, his luck ran out with the decisive kick flying wide.

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The draw leaves Kobe trailing fourth-placed Yokohama Canon Eagles by seven points.

Although the Eagles are still to visit the unbeaten Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights, they may need to lose two of their final three to give Kobe a chance.

The Wild Knights remain the front-runners after a 50-26 win over Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo with their 13th win of the season spearheaded by two tries for the second week running from Wallaby winger Marika Koroibete.

The Robbie Deans-coached side is within three wins of their third unbeaten regular season in four since the game resumed in Japan after Covid.

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The ‘believe it or not’ season Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay are enduring continued on Saturday when the defending champions were denied in referee’s time for the second week running, remarkably surrendering a 31-0 first half advantage as they were pegged back to 31-31 by Shizuoka Blue Revs in the weekend’s second draw.

Blue Revs, for whom dual international Charlies Piutau scored twice, were chasing their first home victory over the Spears since 2006 and could have ended that barren run had Keagen Faria not scuffed the conversion of his side’s final try from a handy angle, three minutes into added time.

The luckless winger had landed his previous attempt from the sideline.

Kubota conceded two tries in a crazy final 10 minutes playing with 13 men after two of their number were yellow carded, including ex-Wallaby flyhalf Bernard Foley, who was dismissed for an around the neck tackle.

Foley had earlier scored his second try in as many weeks as part of Kubota’s big lead.

Fijian-born centre Viliame Takayawa was the main man for the Eagles on Friday night, scoring four times during his side’s 52-33 win over Hanazono Kintetsu Liners.

The other games saw two tries by Beauden Barrett help Toyota Verblitz complete back-to-back wins for the first time by beating Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars 34-20, while third-placed Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath trounced Mie Honda Heat 60-10.

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Jon 23 hours ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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