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Boks and All Blacks central players in Japan Rugby League One fate

By Matt McILraith
Richie Mounga of Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo signs autographs after winning the NTT Japan Rugby League One match between Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath v Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo at Ajinomoto Stadium on December 17, 2023 in Chofu, Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights will become the first side to qualify for the semi-finals of this year’s Japan Rugby League One should they beat ninth-placed Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars at Kumagaya on Saturday.

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The only unbeaten side in the top division, the Wild Knights are chasing their 12th win of the season against an opponent they’ve put 182 points and 27 tries on, in three meetings since the start of last year.

The Dynaboars, who feature 25-year-old flyhalf James Grayson, the son of ex-England rep Paul, have won three of their last five to ease relegation fears, and are enjoying their best season in the top flight with five wins overall, but won’t be looking forward to their trip to Saitama.

Fixture
Japan Rugby League One
Saitama Wild Knights
53 - 12
Full-time
Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars
All Stats and Data

While the bottom three: Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo, Mie Honda Heat and Hanazono Kintetsu Liners, all look up against it on Saturday, there will be plenty of interest, and significance, in Sunday’s doubleheader.

Fourth-placed Kobelco Kobe Steelers face third-placed Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, and Ardie Savea’s side could fall out of the semi-final qualification positions with just four games remaining, should Suntory repeat their win from the first clash between the sides.

Springbok star Cheslin Kolbe was a try-scorer and young flyhalf Mikiya Takamoto kicked 19 points as Sungoliath overturned a six-point halftime deficit to prevail 44-36, despite inside centre Ngane Laumape and second rower Brodie Retallick scoring tries for the visitors.

The All Black pair, along with countryman Savea, are going to need to be at their best against an opponent still smarting after they blew a 25-point halftime lead in their 37-35 defeat by Yokohama last time out.

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Kobe, who have been defeated just twice in seven outings since their loss to Suntory, have been boosted this season by the impact of the former (Waikato) Chief from Super Rugby, Bryn Gatland.

Fixture
Japan Rugby League One
Kobelco Kobe Steelers
27 - 36
Full-time
Tokyo Sungoliath
All Stats and Data

Gatland is doing his Wales-coach father Warren proud.

The underrated 28-year-old is the league’s leading point-scorer with 150, 10 ahead of Saitama’s Brave Blossoms pivot Rikiya Matsuda, and 31 in front of All Black Richie Mo’unga.

The former Crusaders man is also in action on Sunday as second-placed Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo bid to draw the curtains on the title defence of Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay.

Alongside his goal-kicking excellence, Mo’unga has been the most creative back in the league, registering a season high 12 try-scoring ‘assists’ alongside the three he has scored.

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The number shows why the 56-test star was an astute signing by the man who gave him his shot as a youngster in Super Rugby eight years ago, former Crusaders, and current Brave Lupus coach, Todd Blackadder.

Division One Schedule:
Saturday: Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo v Yokohama Canon Eagles; Shizuoka Blue Revs v Mie Honda Heat; Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights v Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars; Toyota Verlitz v Hanazono Kintetsu Liners.

Sunday: Kobelco Kobe Steelers v Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath; Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay v Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo.

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