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Deans trumps Rennie as ex-Wallaby bosses meet in Japan

Head coach Robbie Deans of Saitama Wild Knights applauds fans after 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)

Robbie Deans has won the battle of the Wallaby coaches in Japan as his Saitama Wild Knights beat Dave Rennie’s Kobe Steelers 28-18 to continue their unbeaten march in League One.


The Wild Knights finished strongly to record their 10th win of the season, scoring the final two tries after Kobe had rallied from a three-point halftime deficit to lead 18-14 with 25 minutes to play.

Saturday’s success came in the first meeting between Deans and his Wallaby successor since the pair were coaching rivals in New Zealand’s national provincial championship, 20 years ago.

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Springbok Jessie Kriel unpacks the advantages of playing in Japan

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Springbok Jessie Kriel unpacks the advantages of playing in Japan

Both won that competition, as well as sharing seven Super Rugby titles between them before embarking on journeys that eventually led to the Wallabies.

Japan Rugby League One
Kobelco Kobe Steelers
18 - 28
Saitama Wild Knights
All Stats and Data

Collectively, they coached Australia 108 times, winning 56 of those games, with Deans returning 43 wins from 74 attempts, at 58 percent, and Rennie 13 from 34 at 38 percent.

Deans has rewritten the record books since joining the Wild Knights, where he has won the league five times.

This matches his titles with the Crusaders, although the win over fourth-placed Kobe suggests he is on track to exceed his Super Rugby achievements.


Kobe remain in the hunt, although they are tied with Yokohama on the ladder.

Rennie will need to work out a plan to get his star man, World Rugby Player of the Year Ardie Savea, into the game after the Wild Knights nullified his threat.

Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo remain second after a 41-19 win over the Sagamihara Dynaboars, while Wallaby fullback Tom Banks was a try-scorer as Mie Honda Heat scored their first win of the season, downing Quade Cooper and Will Genia’s winless Hanazono Kintetsu Liners, 20-19.

Friday night produced a thriller as Kubota Spears Tokyo Bay scored twice in the final three minutes to beat Yokohama 29-26, despite playing the last 50 minutes with 14 men.

Tokyo Sungoliath drew a crowd of more than 34,000 on their visit to play Toyota Verblitz for a game that ended even more dramatically.


The sides traded tries in the final minute of regular time, and the fifth minute of added time, with the visitors coming from behind to beat Verblitz 39-38.



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