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Brave Blossoms flyhalf upstages stars in Japan rugby

KUMAGAYA, JAPAN - MARCH 04: Takuya Yamasawa (C) of Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights celebrates after his team's try during the League One match between Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights and Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay at Kumagaya Sports & Culture Park Rugby Stadium on March 04, 2023 in Kumagaya, Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images)

There might have been three Springboks and two Wallabies on the field but the foreign internationals were upstaged by a local as Marika Koroibete’s Saitama Wild Knights stayed unbeaten in Japan Rugby League One.


The Wallaby winger’s teammate, Brave Blossoms flyhalf Takuya Yamasawa, was the star of the show, claiming 25 of the Wild Knights’ points in a 30-15 win over the previously unbeaten Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay.

The Spears, who were bidding to become the first side to topple the Wild Knights in 43 matches, led 12-10 at halftime but were unable to counter Yamasawa’s brilliance, despite fielding Wallaby flyhalf Bernard Foley and Springbok hooker Malcolm Marx in their ranks.

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Arriving as the leading try-scorers in the league, the Spears were held tryless, with Marx unable to add to his tally of seven tries for the season.

Koroibete didn’t cross the try-line either, but he didn’t need to, as Yamasawa scored tries in each half, as well as kicking two penalty goals, three conversions and a dropped goal.

Of all of his points, it was arguably the dropped goal, calmly taken in the 68th minute, that was of the most importance.

Having seen the lead taken from them after the break, Foley’s fifth penalty goal of the afternoon,


dragged the Spears back to within five, entering the game’s final 15 minutes.

Yamasawa’s goal extended the Wild Knights’ advantage beyond the range of a converted try, with the home side sealing their victory, and picking up a valuable try-scoring bonus point in the process, when their rookie winger Tomoki Osada scored with two minutes remaining.

While Foley’s 15 points extended his lead as the league’s highest individual point-scorer, boosting his tally to 128, it was his Saitama counterparts’ day, with the 28-year-old showing he is up to the hype which has many astute judges of the game in Japan promoting him as the most influential player in the star-studded league.

Yamasawa, who also has Springbok inside centre Damien de Allen de and lock Lood de Jager among his teammates, was man of the match in last year’s final, where his goal-line tackle on All Black Damien McKenzie prevented a certain try in the Wild Knights’ 18-12 win over Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath.


He was then a try-scorer for Japan during their gallant performance to get within seven of the All Blacks in Tokyo in October.

Yesterday’s haul took Yamasawa’s tally of points to 58 from the last three matches, as the Robbie Deans-coached Wild Knights established a seven-point break on Kubota at the top of the table.

Third-placed Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, who play the Wild Knights next week, will have disappointed club advisor Eddie Jones, being unable to take advantage of Kubota’s defeat when they were upset 27-20 by Toyota Verblitz.

At Osaka, ex-Wallaby Matt Toomua came off the bench to steer the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars to a thrilling 38-29 win over Will Genia’s Hanazono Kintetsu Liners.

Both Toomua and Genia scored tries, as did fellow Wallaby centre Curtis Rona, but it was Toomua and Rona who got to do the celebrating in the end, with the win ending Sagamihara’s five-match winless run.

The other Division One results of the weekend saw two tries by Springbok loose forward Kwagga Smith help Shizuoka Blue Revs to draw with fourth-placed Yokohama Canon Eagles 27-27, while the Todd Blackadder-coached Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo hammered Kobelco Kobe Steelers 51-12.

Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo were big winners over ex-Wallaby coach Michael Cheika’s former team, NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu, with Queensland’s Isaac Lucas amongst their seven try-scorers in the 54-7 hammering, while Matt McGahan, son of Kiwis rugby league legend Hugh McGahan, kicked 12 points to join Foley in exceeding 100 for the season.


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