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Malcolm Marx's Kubota Spears win Japan rugby title

By AAP
Kubota Spears fans celebrate the team's 24-18 victory in the Rugby League One playoff semi final between Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay and Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath at Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground on May 14, 2023 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay are the new kings of Japan Rugby League One after taking out the final in front of 41,000 fans at the National Stadium in Tokyo.

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Driven by the boot of Wallaby halfback Bernard Foley, alongside a vital try from rookie winger Haruto Kida, Kubota won coronation by beating Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights 17-15, denying ex-Australia coach Robbie Deans and his men a third straight title.

Three first-half penalty goals from Foley had the Spears ahead 9-3 at the break, and they extended the lead to nine points when the Australian was successful with a fourth after the re-start.

Deans rang the changes shortly after by making four replacements and it was one of these, veteran Panasonic, and former Melbourne Rebels hooker Shota Horie, who got his side back in the match, scoring the game’s opening try, three minutes after he had taken the field.

The conversion cut Kubota’s lead to two, and they fell behind seven minutes later when first season winger Tomoki Osada scored his ninth try of the competition to push the defending champions ahead 15-12.

Playing in their first final, after having been eliminated by Saitama in the semi-finals in each of the last two years, the Spears were not to be denied, scoring the match-winning try 11 minutes before the finish.

The try was Kida’s 17th of a bumper season, but none have been as important as this one, as Kubota held Panasonic at bay through a tense final period to secure their maiden title.

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Alongside Foley, Springbok hooker Malcolm Marx and former All Black midfielder Ryan Crotty also featured for the Spears, who are coached by the two-time Super Rugby title-winning former Bulls coach, Frans Ludeke.

The third and fourth playoff, which was won by Yokohama Canon Eagles, saw Wallaby midfielder Samu Kerevi continue his comeback by making his second appearance for Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath.

Out of action since suffering a knee injury at August’s Co mmonwealth Games, the 29-year-old played 70 minutes a s Suntory fell 26-20 to a Yokohama side inspired by Springbok halfback Faf de Klerk.

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