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All Blacks great Dane Coles robbed of swansong

Dane Coles of New Zealand looks on prior to the 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)

With the semi-finalists and Replacement Battle (promotion/relegation series) candidates all but sorted, the final round of the regular season in Japan Rugby League One, which kicks off on Saturday, will be as much about individual goals as it will be team ones, for many of the players involved.


Those preparing for their final hit-out split into two distinct groups: for the foreign players, it is the chance to leave Japan on a high, signing off on a positive note before they head home.

For those locals whose league trail ends – which includes eight members of last year’s Rugby World Cup squad – it is the one remaining opportunity to impress returning Brave Blossoms coach Eddie Jones, as he closes in on his selections for the mid-year tests, including against his former team England, which will be followed by the Pacific Nations Cup.

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There is also the not inconsiderable matter of gaining the highest possible finishing places for their clubs, especially in the congested mid-table, where three candidates are still in the running to finish fifth.

Kobelco Kobe Steelers hold the best cards as the current occupants of the position, even though they will be without World Rugby Player of the Year Ardie Savea.

Japan Rugby League One
Toyota Verblitz
35 - 31
Yokohama Canon Eagles
All Stats and Data

With a final day assignment at eleventh-placed Mie Honda Heat, against who they have won the last eleven, theirs is a strong hand.

Toyota Verblitz (sixth) and Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay (seventh) can still trump them but only if Dave Rennie’s men fold.


Following last week’s dramatic finish to beat Yokohama, Steve Hansen’s Verblitz will be hoping to make their final bow just as successful against Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo.

Unfortunately, Dane Coles won’t get the chance for an on-field sign off for Kubota against Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath following the hamstring injury that rubbed him out of last weekend’s win over the Heat.

After 90 tests, and 140 games for the Hurricanes, the All Black hooker’s career was over until the call came from Kubota, although the 37-year-old is unlikely to be around the club next season, when their Springbok talisman Malcolm Marx returns.

Mind you, Coles had retired once already – and came back to enjoy the lifestyle and rugby in Japan – so who knows?


Major League Rugby perhaps?

In a sign of what was to come for the Spears’ title defence, Sungoliath won this match-up on the opening weekend, gaining revenge after the eventual champions took them down three-times during last year’s historic season.

The Spears have found form of late, disposing of Kobe and Honda over the last two weekends, and will be eager to put an exclamation mark on their revival by knocking over one of their would-be successors.

At the top end of the standings, leaders Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights will go back to the start when they visit Yokohama Canon Eagles; their semi-final opponents, who they thumped 53-12 on the opening day.

With 15 wins already, the Robbie Deans-coached side are 80 minutes away from the completion of their third unbeaten regular season in four since the game resumed after Covid.
As Panasonic has not lost to Canon since 2013, only the brave would bet against them.

Further down the ladder, the bottom three; Ricoh, Honda, and Hanazono Kintetsu Liners have mustered just five wins between them.

The final round is a last chance to tune up before their two-legged survivor series against the top three Division Two clubs.



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1 Comment
Sinenhlanhla 71 days ago

Good riddance

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sean 39 minutes ago
The bite don't match the bark

Yeah, he has a few good points… I disagree that our 7s haven't done anything, we won Bronze in 2016, and we were virtually unplayable to the backend of the “teens” winning the series. 7s is far more competitive globally than Union, so it's fair to say we haven't dominated, but we are almost always contenders. But I do agree that our national side doesn't perform nearly as well as it should between World Cups, and I do agree that our supporters can be too passionate and the opitimity of what Rugby stands against. I have said so many times. And I also believe some context needs to be taken into account with Saturday's win for Ireland. They're a really good team! Settled coaching staff, and bar a few legends retiring, they've had a full season and plenty of time together. We have some youngsters being groomed for the future, have played only 3 games now under a new coaching team with new philosophies and game plans. I'm excited by what the future of this team holds, as much as I am disappointed by the result. But unlike this article suggests, I am never going to take away from what Ireland has achieved, is achieving, and where they're heading. As a Rugby fan, I love the tight games, like the last two weekends. As a Bok Super Fan, I agree we don't perform as well as we should. And as an aside, you come play a game at 7am on our fields, bud. -2°c and frost on the field that is as hard as concrete…. Then we’ll see just how tough you are. Well done Ireland! They played well, and gave our boys a lot to think about. That's what you want from the top two teams in the world. Rugby won. The fans of this greatbsport won. A'n bullshit like this article is why Rugby is losing its identity. I don't like soccer. This article perpetuates the soccer influences the game of Rugby is starting to see. It's why Wayne Barnes retired, feared for his family, and he isn't the only ref to say so. I have called out many Bok fans for being an embarrassment to the game, and I will continue to do so., this article is close to the same bullshit. You should be better.

38 Go to comments
Michael 1 hours ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

Cant deny Christie is a good defender, box kicks well at times, BUT he’s a second too slow passing from the ground. Roigard, Ratima and Hotham will be our 2027 halfbacks I believe DMAC has played reasonably well in both games, so deserves to keep his place - his two breaks at Eden Park should have resulted in tries. Reece was really to blame for the Taylor failure - he stayed too wide, if he had come in a couple of meters the pass from Taylor would have worked. The Perofeta failure was extraordinary, he is normally such a good distributor, failure to draw in Steward was remarkable, failure to look inside was a shocker. Cory Flynn as lineout coach… umm something a miss here. Not sure who is calling the lineouts, but clearly we miss Whitelock’s leadership. Having a disfunctional line out really underminded the AB attack. But let’s remind ourselves Itoje is a master, and their tactics of going for the arms of the jumper on landing and pulling over was brilliant causing Paddy and Scooter to both fumble the balls. I am a Blues supporter so I like Talea, but if you play him on the wrong wing look out. While he’s not the fastest wing, he’s elusive and very industrious always looking for work. However, he’s not the tallest player, and everyone knows his weakness (a) being turned in defence - he’s slow to turn and react and (b) never jumps for high balls is normally out jumped. Personally, I find Recce and Talea too alike - Razor needs to couple them with another complementary partner Clark and Narawa respectively. However, for me the real troubling challenge is our mid-field. I am sorry Barrett & Ioane are a poor combo - either Barrett & Proctor or ALB & Ioane - but having two mid-fielders who are poor distributors is nuts. Jordie had a forgettable game in truth he missed so many tackles, which to be fair is unlike him. But sadly both Barrett and Ioane chose to bash first and rarely distribute cleanly.

26 Go to comments
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