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Ex-All Blacks and Wallabies playmakers to go head-to-head in Japan

By Alex McLeod
(Photos / Getty Images)

A pair of former All Blacks and Wallabies playmakers are set to square off in a star-studded round three clash in Japan Rugby League One this weekend.


The Kobleco Kobe Steelers host the Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay in Kobe on Saturday that will see a raft of current and former test internationals go head-to-head at NOEVIR Stadium.

The biggest head-to-head match-up from both teams sees former All Blacks first-five Aaron Cruden, now playing for Kobelco, pitted against ex-Wallabies pivot Bernard Foley, who makes his first appearance for Kubota this season.

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Cruden, who played 50 tests for the All Blacks between 2010 and 2017, was omitted from last week’s Steelers side that was stunned in a 55-21 defeat at the hands of the Yokohama Canon Eagles at Nissan Stadium.

The week beforehand, he started and played the entirety of his side’s season-opener against the Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu, a match he could have won for Kobelco with an injury-time conversion that he missed, resulting in a 24-23 defeat in Kobe.

As such, the Steelers, one of the regular title frontrunners in Japan, remain winless this season and will target this weekend’s clash against Kubota as a must-win fixture.

Cruden will be supported in helping guide the Steelers to victory by the likes of current Japanese internationals Isileli Nakajima, Tim Lafaele and Ryohei Yamanaka, all of whom have been named to start for Kobelco.


Brave Blossoms duo Koo Ji-won and Naohiro Kotaki have also been named on the bench, while ex-Blues lock Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Highlanders cult hero Richard Buckman and former Chiefs wing Ataata Moeakiola are listed to start.

Kubota won’t make it easy for Kobelco, though, after the Spears forced their way into a top four spot in the Division 1 standings with a hard-earned 19-9 win over the Shining Arcs last weekend.

That victory came after they were handed five competition points for their cancelled season-opener against the Saitama Wild Knights, who couldn’t field a side due to a Covid-19 outbreak in their squad.

As a result, the Spears linger near the summit of the League One top division table and will look to stay there as Foley, who played 71 tests for the Wallabies between 2013 and 2019, has been included in a Kubota match day side for the first time this year.


Foley will be supported by former All Blacks midfielder Ryan Crotty at second-five, while journeyman South African outside back Gerhard van den Heever, whose goal-kicking was instrumental in last week’s win, has retained his place at fullback.


Furthermore, Kubota have been bolstered by the addition of World Cup-winning Springboks hooker Malcolm Marx, who has been named on the bench and is primed to make his first League One appearance in 2022.

Kubota will, however, be without current Japan internationals Lappies Labuschagne and Faulua Makisi, as well as captain Harumichi Tatekawa, all of whom have been dropped after facing the Shining Arcs in Tokyo last week.

Elsewhere throughout the league, Israel Folau has been omitted from the Shining Arcs squad to face the Green Rockets Tokatsu in Tokyo.

By contrast, Toyota Verblitz have made minimal changes to their team, keeping the likes of Springboks star Pieter-Steph du Toit, All Blacks lock Patrick Tuipulotu and Brave Blossoms No 8 Kazuki Himeno on board to face the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes at Toyota Stadium.

In Division 2, Australian greats Will Genia and Quade Cooper will again combine in the halves for the Hanazono Kintetsu Liners against the Mie Honda Heat, who are without former All Blacks fullback Matt Duffie, in Osaka.

The Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars, meanwhile, have named a strong side, headlined by ex-All Blacks lock Jackson Hemopo, to take on the Mazda Skyactivs Hiroshima in Minami-Ku.

Saturday’s only other scheduled match comes in Division 3, where the Munakata Sanix Blues will host the Chugoku Red Regulions in Fukuoka.


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