All Blacks and Wallabies shine as Wild Knights beat Suntory Sungoliath
In a repeat of last year’s Top League final, the Wild Knights rebounded from a 17-3 deficit to score 31 unanswered points and storm to victory at Kumagaya Rugby Stadium on Saturday in a match featuring numerous headline names.
International stars such as All Blacks fullback Damian McKenzie and Wallabies duo Samu Kerevi and Sean McMahon all started for Suntory, with Kerevi provided a particularly impactful role for the visitors.
The 2021 World Rugby Player of the Year nominee was a destructive force with ball in hand as he helped pave the way for his side’s opening try, scored by prop Shintaro Isihara, with a damaging carry through the middle of the park.
Kerevi was then seen ploughing through and over the top of two Wild Knights defenders, putting Suntory on the front foot and laying the foundations for blindside flanker Kenji Shimokawa’s 17th minute try.
McKenzie’s goal-kicking ensured Suntory had a 17-3 lead by that stage of the game, but the Wild Knights fought their way back into the match when Australian-born Brave Blossoms loose forward Ben Gunter crashed over from a lineout move.
McMahon was then fortunate not to have been sin binned for a cynical knock down of the ball as the Wild Knights threatened to score, but the boot of Japanese international Rikiya Matsuda edged the hosts to within four points.
Shortly before half-time, the Wild Knights snatched the lead when Brave Blossoms hooker Atsushi Sakate rumbled over from the back of a rolling maul, and the onslaught continued into the second half.
First it was Matsuda who punished Suntory’s ill-discipline with three successful shots at goal, before Wallabies wing Marika Koroibete burst into the match with a storming run down the left-hand flank with little time remaining.
Capitalising on a loss of possession by Suntory, Koroibete showed a clean pair of heels and good awareness to offload into the hands of Australian-born Japanese midfielder Dylan Riley, who scored the game-clinching try with eight minutes to play.
Panasonic’s win condemned Suntory to their first defeat of the season, a result that has cost them top spot on the Division 1 standings, which is now occupied by Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay after their 41-20 win over Toyota Verblitz.
That match saw Springboks hooker Malcolm Marx cross for a brace of tries, while ex-Wallabies playmaker Bernard Foley provided 17 points from the boot as Patrick Tuipulotu, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Willie le Roux all succumbed to defeat.
Elsewhere, Israel Folau scored a try as NTT Communications Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu pipped the Toshiba Brave Lupus 22-21 in Tokyo, while the Shizuoka Blue Revs overcame the NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu 34-27 in Kashiwa.
On Sunday, meanwhile, Jesse Kriel’s Yokohama Canon Eagles defeated Black Rams Tokyo 30-12 in Tokyo to draw level with the fourth-placed Wild Knights on the league standings.
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