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Lood de Jager pulling up trees in Japan after return from injury

By RugbyPass
Saitama Wild Knights' Lood de Jager (top, L) and Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay Ruan Botha fight for the ball during the League One final between Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay and Saitama Wild Knights at the National Stadium in Tokyo on May 20, 2023. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP) (Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images)

There might only have been two matches in the first weekend of a two-part Round Six in Japan Rugby League One, but that didn’t stop Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath and Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars producing a game to remember today, as the former won 36-34 in their last outing before participating in The Cross Border Rugby.

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Sungoliath, who entertain the (Auckland) Blues in the opening game of that series on February 3, looked like they would be heading into the engagement on the back of a loss, after a blistering start by Sagamihara. Smarting after last week’s embarrassing 60-point loss to Saitama, the Dynaboars scored four tries in the opening 15 minutes, by the end of which had them leading 26-0.

Ex-All Black backrower Jackson Hemopo was among the scorers, crossing for his fourth try from the last three weeks, while the former Blues back from Super Rugby, Matt Vaega, also scored for the second week in a row. A further penalty goal by ex-England age-grade representative James Grayson made it 29 points in 22 minutes, and it took 28 minutes of playing time before the visitor’s finally troubled the scoreboard attendants, when Australian-born second rower Trevor Hosea scored Suntory’s first try. The addition of a second, by last year’s leading try-scorer Seiya Ozaki, meant that halftime came with Mitsubishi still in charge by 15, but the momentum having swung Suntory’s way. This continued as the second half began, with further life breathed into Sungoliath hopes when the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup skipper Sam Cane crossed for his second try in as many weeks.

With Sagamihara suddenly under pressure, it looked as if the game had become irretrievably lost when a penalty goal by Mikiya Takamoto, and his conversion of a try by Yutaka Nagare, meant Sungoliath went ahead for the first time, having scored 31 unanswered points in 36 minutes. Although it took the Dynaboars 33 minutes of the second half to register a point, their fifth try of the afternoon, which was scored by centre Joichiro Iwashita, appeared to have wrestled the decision in their favour as the clock ticked on, and went beyond the 80th minute. Sagamihara nearly had grabbed the game back too, but Suntory kept coming and their persistence was rewarded when centre Shogo Nakano, who was making his first appearance of the season, marked it with a try in the third minute of referee’s time to steal the win at the end of a remarkable afternoon.

The victory allowed Suntory to draw level on the table with their Fuchu rivals, Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo, both behind only the rampaging Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights, who warmed up for their game against the Gallagher (Waikato) Chiefs in The Cross Border Rugby, by savaging Mie Honda Heat 70-12 at Kumagaya. The Wild Knights host the Chiefs at their fortress in northeast Tokyo on February 4, and while Heat are someway short of the calibre of a Super Rugby side, Saitama nonetheless showed that they shouldn’t be taken lightly by the New Zealanders, after conducting a dress-rehearsal that included 10 tries.

In a week where countryman Joe Schmidt was unveiled as the new Wallaby coach, Robbie Deans presided over Saitama’s sixth consecutive win, with the accumulation of a fifth try-scoring bonus establishing a six-point lead for his unbeaten side at the top of the competition standings. A predecessor of Schmidt as Wallaby mentor, Deans is just one of a cadre at the Wild Knights who have had previous association with Australian rugby. This includes the ex-Melbourne Rebels second rower Esei Haangana, who scored two tries against the Heat, while leading Saitama in the league for the first time.

The 18-cap Brave Blossoms centre Dylan Riley, who schooled in Queensland, made his mark with two tries, taking himself to the top of the league individual try-scoring standings with six, while star Wallaby winger Marika Koroibete scored twice within 12 minutes of taking the field in the second half.

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Springbok second row Lood de Jager, who last week celebrated his first appearance since July with a try, made it back-to-back tries, when he opened the scoring for the Wild Knights, two minutes into the game. His try was the first of six to be converted by Saitama flyhalf Rikiya Matsuda, whose 15 points from the game took his tally for the campaign to 74. This figure is 10 clear of Suntory’s Takamoto at the top of the individual rankings. Saitama has scored 151 points in its last 160 minutes of playing time, and pauses for The Cross Border Rugby, averaging 57 per game through the opening part of the season.

Shimizu Corporation Koto Blue Sharks jumped above their Hiroshima-based rivals on the point’s table in Division Three after comfortably accounting for Kurita Water Gush Akishima today. The Blue Sharks’ 18-point victory was rarely in doubt, even after a decent rally from Water Gush who scored tries either side of halftime to close to within five points. Having scored 25 points in the opening 30 minutes to take charge of the contest, Shimizu then scored the game’s final two tries to ease to a 38-20 final scoreline. Hooker Naomichi Tatekawa scored a try in each half for the Blue Sharks while their South African-born fullback Coenraad van Wyk weighed in with 18 points for the second week running.

The profitable two weeks means van Wyk is now the leading point-scorer in the grade with 45, 12 ahead of Hino’s Simon Hickie, although he has played a match more.

Credit: Japan Rugby League One

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Michael 176 days ago

Be good league to watch in Europe. A rugby channel would be great.

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B.J. Spratt 17 minutes ago
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