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De Allende wins battle of Bok midfielders in Japan

Quinn Tupaea of Chiefs fends off Damian de Allende of Saitama Wild Knights during the preseason match between Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights and Chiefs at Kumagaya Rugby Stadium on February 4, 2024 in Kumagaya, Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images)

Damian de Allende won the battle of the Springbok midfielders as Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights advanced to their fourth straight final after a 20-17 win over Jesse Kriel’s gallant Yokohama Canon Eagles in a thrilling opening semi-final of Japan Rugby League One today.

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Top-of-the-table after the regular season, the unbeaten Wild Knights were forced to fight every bit of the way on a glorious Tokyo afternoon, as the Eagles dominated territory and possession for much of the contest, only to be thwarted by a tenacious defence which kept the season’s fourth place getters scoreless through the final 30 minutes.

Having scored freely through the regular season – when they averaged 47 points per game – the six-time winners won this contest due to their skill at disrupting Yokohama’s steady flow of possession at the breakdown, alongside an ability to scramble successfully when the Eagles attempted to open the game up, forcing the lower ranked side into errors they couldn’t afford.

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This left the Eagles, whose best period came during the 10 minutes after halftime when they scored two tries, to rue their inability to turn all the pressure into points, alongside inaccuracies in contact, which allowed Wild Knights backrowers Ben Gunter and Lachlan Boshier to force crucial turnovers.

Three lost lineout throws at crucial moments didn’t help either, although they did score one of their two tries off a successful lineout drive, with prop-turned backrower Sione Halasili, who had an enormous game, rumbling over as the Eagles gained pay from turning down a kickable penalty.

The try, which closed Yokohama to 13-10, threatened to wrest the initiative away from the Wild Knights, especially as winger Masayoshi Takezawa scored nine minutes later to give his side a four-point lead, after the Wild Knights had scored two quick tries at the start of the game to make the early running.

The first came from a break by Brave Blossoms flyhalf Rikiya Matsuda and a forceful run by Allende, which set up winger Koki Takeyama, while Eagles fullback Junpei Ogura is probably still wondering what hit him after being run over by fearsome Wallaby winger Marika Koroibete, who’s subsequent off-load set up second rower Jack Cornelsen.

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A Matusda penalty goal in the 26th minute, after the Wild Knights demolished the Eagles scrum, pushed the score out to 13-3, but they were the last points Saitama scored for 31 minutes, before another Matsuda break allowed de Allende to score following a melee on the Yokohama goal-line.

Eagles prop Takato Okabe received a yellow card from the incident, having interfered with the ball while lying on the ground just before the Springbok centre forced it.

The try reclaimed the lead, and although the Wild Knights were unable to add to their tally, they rode out some rocky moments to reach the final.

The result continued the Eagles’ tale of woe against the Wild Knights, having lost 16 in a row since 2013.

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It also continued the remarkable coaching record of Robbie Deans, being the 16th win from 18 semi-finals he has prepared for, with nine of these occurring in Japan.

Division One sides Ricoh Black Rams and Mie Honda Heat will take handy advantages into the second led of their Replacement Battles after comfortable wins over NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu (40-21) and Toyota Industries Shuttles Aichi (57-39), with the latter marked by a four try return for the ex-Argentine and Honda backrower Pablo Matera.

Quade Cooper’s Hanazono Kintetsu Liners have some work to do as they host Urayasu D-Rocks in the return leg of their tie next weekend, after the Division Two champions overturned a 12-7 halftime deficit to triumph 21-12.

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Scott 36 days ago

Come back to Christchurch Robbie, please!

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