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Ardie Savea's Japan sabbatical ends on a sour note

Ardie Savea of New Zealand looks dejected at full-time followingthe Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

World Rugby player of the year Ardie Savea has missed out on the chance of finishing his one-year sabbatical with an experience of the Japan Rugby League One play-offs after Kobelco Kobe Steelers were knocked out of the semi-final race at Hokkaido.


The Dave Rennie-coached Steelers were felled 39-29 by outgoing champions Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay, who themselves had been eliminated earlier in the weekend after Yokohama Canon Eagles beat Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars 43-19.

Yokohama’s win had left five teams standing, after erasing the mathematical hopes of Toyota Verblitz and Shizuoka Blue Revs, as well as Kubota.

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Kobe then joined that trio on the outer, despite 19 points from ex-Chiefs fly-half Bryn Gatland, confirming the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights, Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo, Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath and Eagles as the semi-final line up.

The Wild Knights claimed the top spot in the regular season for the fourth time since the game resumed following covid after crushing Toyota Verblitz 40-7.

Japan Rugby League One
Kubota Spears
39 - 29
Kobelco Kobe Steelers
All Stats and Data

Their assault was led by the Test pair of Wallaby Marika Koroibete and Springbok Lood de Jager who each scored two tries.

It was Koroibete’s third try-scoring double in as many weeks after he had scored just twice in 11 appearances before the run, while de Jager scored his fifth and sixth tries from nine games following a career reboot in the aftermath of well-publicised health problems.


The win extended a record between the rival coaches which has seen ex-All Black boss Steve Hansen unable to beat his former Wallaby counterpart Robbie Deans in seven attempts since he took over at Verblitz following the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Deans’ men have hit 40 points or more in five of those matches. Unbeaten in 14, the Wild Knights will face the fourth-placed finisher in the semi-finals.

Currently fourth, the Eagles welcomed back Springbok centre Jesse Kriel, who had been out since mid-January after breaking his thumb, and the South African capped off an excellent weekend for the club with a try in the win over the Dynaboars.

Sungoliath, who needed a late penalty goal by fly-half Mikiya Takamoto to secure a 31-31 draw with Shizuoka Blue Revs on Friday night, are only two log points ahead of the Eagles and face a massive derby on Saturday against their Fuchu neighbours and fierce rivals, Brave Lupus.


With one eye to that game, Toshiba coach Todd Blackadder made eight changes to the combination that drew with Kobe last week, including fielding a third fly-half in as many weeks, with Hayata Nakao standing in for All Black Richie Mo’unga, who was absent on bereavement leave.

While they narrowly squeezed past second-from-bottom Mie Honda Heat 8-7, Honda coach Kieran Crowley will have taken encouragement ahead of next month’s promotion/relegation series from the return of the former Argentine captain Pablo Matera.

The 30-year-old, who played the first half, hadn’t featured this season after arriving back from the Rugby World Cup with a leg injury.

Hanazono Kintetsu Liners will also play the relegation series, and they may have taken 10th-placed Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo with them after their 34-23 win.

Kintetsu’s first win of the season – at the 14th attempt – has left the Black Rams 10 points from safety with two games to play.



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Diarmid 10 hours ago
Players and referees must cut out worrying trend in rugby – Andy Goode

The guy had just beasted himself in a scrum and the blood hadn't yet returned to his head when he was pushed into a team mate. He took his weight off his left foot precisely at the moment he was shoved and dropped to the floor when seemingly trying to avoid stepping on Hyron Andrews’ foot. I don't think he was trying to milk a penalty, I think he was knackered but still switched on enough to avoid planting 120kgs on the dorsum of his second row’s foot. To effectively “police” such incidents with a (noble) view to eradicating play acting in rugby, yet more video would need to be reviewed in real time, which is not in the interest of the game as a sporting spectacle. I would far rather see Farrell penalised for interfering with the refereeing of the game. Perhaps he was right to be frustrated, he was much closer to the action than the only camera angle I've seen, however his vocal objection to Rodd’s falling over doesn't legitimately fall into the captain's role as the mouthpiece of his team - he should have kept his frustration to himself, that's one of the pillars of rugby union. I appreciate that he was within his rights to communicate with the referee as captain but he didn't do this, he moaned and attempted to sway the decision by directing his complaint to the player rather than the ref. Rugby needs to look closely at the message it wants to send to young players and amateur grassroots rugby. The best way to do this would be to apply the laws as they are written and edit them where the written laws no longer apply. If this means deleting laws such as ‘the put in to the scrum must be straight”, so be it. Likewise, if it is no longer necessary to respect the referee’s decision without questioning it or pre-emptively attempting to sway it (including by diving or by shouting and gesticulating) then this behaviour should be embraced (and commercialised). Otherwise any reference to respecting the referee should be deleted from the laws. You have to start somewhere to maintain the values of rugby and the best place to start would be giving a penalty and a warning against the offending player, followed by a yellow card the next time. People like Farrell would rapidly learn to keep quiet and let their skills do the talking.

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