While there was plenty of talk earlier in the season that the standard of the Top League has increased dramatically, Saturday’s knockout matches have suggested otherwise, with Beauden Barrett’s Suntory Sungoliath racking up 76 points in their victory over NEC Green Rockets.
It’s worth noting that all sixteen sides from the Top League plus four from the second division are included in this season’s knockout competition in order to decide seedings for next year’s new professional competition in Japan.
As such, Suntory’s 76-31 win came against one of the two lowest-ranked sides in the first division.
Still, it’s another notch in Suntory’s belt as they head towards the pointy end of the season where they’ll expect to face Kobe Steelers in the semis and then Robbie Deans’ Panasonic Wild Knights in the grand final on May 23rd.
Barrett featured heavily for Suntory in their win over the Green Rockets, with the All Blacks first five scoring his side’s first try of the game in the opening two minutes after receiving a one-handed offload from former Wallaby Sean McMahon.
Their next match will see them come up against Ricoh Black Rams, who have the likes of Elliot Dixon and Isaac Lucas on the books.
The Steelers, meanwhile, bested the Mitsubishi Dynaboars 50-17, with former Chiefs players Aaron Cruden, Brodie Retallick and Ataata Moeakiola all scoring points for Kobe.
They’ll face Bernard Foley’s Kubota Spears in two weeks’ time, who defeated Yamaha Jubilo 46-12.
There are four more matches set to be played today and while it would not be a huge surprise to see four blowouts, given the relative rankings of the teams going to battle, there will still be plenty of interest seeing the Wild Knights go up against the Kintetsu Liners, who are the only second division team remaining in the knockout competition.
It will be a reunion of sorts for Robbie Deans and Kintetsu’s Quade Cooper – although Will Genia will be absent from the match after injuring his MCL during last weekend’s victory over Munakata Sanix Blues.
Toyota Verblitz v Hino Red Dolphins
Honda Heat v NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes
Toyota Shining Arcs v Canon Eagles
Kintetsu Liners v Panasonic Wild Knights
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