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Former All Blacks teammates to face off in Top League quarter-finals

Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, Kieran Read, Matt Todd and Sonny Bill Williams following their final match for the All Blacks. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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Sean McMahon and Harry Hockings might be getting an additional breather, but there will be plenty of other Australians in action when three Top league quarter-finals are played in Japan this weekend.


The Australian pair, along with their injured countryman Samu Kerevi, received a free pass into next week’s semi-finals when Damien Hill’s Ricoh Black Rams were forced to withdraw from Sunday’s quarter-final against Suntory Sungoliath due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

Testing last week revealed 22 cases among players at the former Melbourne Rebels mentors’ club.

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The panel of Ross Karl, James Parsons and Bryn Hall talk about all the action and news from the week of rugby in New Zealand and across the world.
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The panel of Ross Karl, James Parsons and Bryn Hall talk about all the action and news from the week of rugby in New Zealand and across the world.

This left Ricoh unable to field a team and forced to concede the match based on rules catering for COVID-related interruption to the schedule.

Despite Tokyo and Osaka both slipping back into a state of emergency last month, the success of the strict health and safety protocols enforced by the league has been such that Sunday’s game is just the second from 80 so far, to have been scrubbed because of the pandemic.

The abandonment means Suntory, the tournament favourites, will not have played for three weeks when they tackle the winners between the Kobelco Steelers and Kubota Spears in the last four.

Sunday’s quarter-final reprises the 2019 title decider, when Dan Carter-led Kobe to a convincing 43-7 victory over Kubota, who were in their first final.


While Carter is no longer in residence at Kobe, the All Blacks influence remains predominant with Brodie Retallick, Ben Smith and Aaron Cruden among eight New Zealanders on the roster.

Former Wallabies flyhalf Bernard Foley does not lack for star power around him at Kubota either, with the Spears also fielding Springboks hooker Malcolm Marx, ex-All Blacks midfielder Ryan Crotty and Japan’s flanker from the Rugby World Cup, Pieter ‘Lappies’ Labuschagne.

On the other side of the draw, Wallabies captain Michael Hooper and his former All Blacks counterpart Kieran Read could set up a reunion with their ex-coach Robbie Deans should Toyota Verblitz successfully negotiate its way past the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in Saturday’s first quarter-final.


The Panasonic coach introduced Hooper to the Wallabies and Read to the Crusaders during his time overseeing those respective sides, but could have to outwit the pair to stay on target for a fourth title in Japan.

The Wild Knights feature in the second game on Saturday, pitted against the Canon Eagles whom they beat 47-0 on their way to winning the league’s white conference.

Panasonic have been captained in their most recent matches by Australian No 8 Jack Cornelsen.

Should Toyota end the Red Hurricanes’ season, focus would turn to the future of TJ Perenara.

The All Blacks halfback revealed to international media last week that he will decide whether to join the Roosters in the NRL once his commitments in Japan were finished.

– Matt McIlwraith

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