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Lood de Jager's Wild Knights complete another regular season unbeaten

Look de Jager in action for the table-topping Panasonic Wild Knights (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

Lood de Jager’s Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights have stretched their unbeaten regular season away record in Japan Rugby League One to 49 games following Saturday’s 43-14 win at Yokohama Canon Eagles.

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The 15th straight win by Japan’s six-time national champions against Yokohama – a sequence which dates back to 2013 – completed the Wild Knights’ fourth unbeaten regular season from five since the sport resumed following the pandemic.

Their overall record through this period – including finals – now stands at an astonishing 87 wins from 90 outings as well as a draw ahead of their upcoming semi-final, which will be a re-match with the Eagles.

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Despite being stretched by Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo, where they only led by five before scoring late to confirm a 36-24 victory, Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, whom they trailed 13-20 after 55 minutes before scoring the final 11 points to win 24-20, and each of Kobelco Kobe Steelers (28-18) and Hanazono Kintetsu Liners (33-24), Saturday’s latest win left the Wild Knights ending the regular season having scored at an average of 47 per game.

Dylan Riley scored two tries to help them lead 31-14 at the interval and they then added 12 unanswered second-half points to dominate the Eagles who had their account opened by a Jesse Kriel try on 14 minutes.

Fixture
Japan Rugby League One
Yokohama Canon Eagles
14 - 43
Full-time
Saitama Wild Knights
All Stats and Data

The Wild Knights are the only side to have exceeded 100 tries, well clear of the next team in the rankings. Such statistics suggest that the title is a sure thing, but last year’s experience says it is not.

Back then, the Wild Knights averaged 34 points per game, losing just once in the regular season. They put 50 points on the Eagles in the semi-final, but this dominance counted for nothing a week later.

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After hanging on grimly for much of a contest played in front of 43,000 people, Kubota Spears Funabashi Bay edged ahead 10 minutes from time and wouldn’t be denied as they prevailed 17-15 to claim a maiden title.

The Spears won’t be defending their crown in the play-offs but they sent Sungoliath into their semi-final with Toshiba Brave Lupus in two weeks on the back of a three-game winless run after finishing their campaign with a 45-26 win in Tokyo.

In a fast-paced contest played at a sun-drenched Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, the Spears ran away with the game in its dying stages, scoring three times in the last 15 minutes, including a penalty try with the last act of the game after an early tackle denied winger Hiroyuki Yamasaki what would have been his hat-trick.

First-half tries from the Ozaki brothers, Taiga (two) and Seiya, had helped Sungoliath to a 19-14 half-time lead, and while Taiga completed his hat-trick shortly after play resumed, Suntory went scoreless over the remaining 37 minutes while conceding four tries and 31 points.

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The win was not enough to give Kubota a fifth-place finish, with Kobelco Kobe Steelers holding on to that position but only just, needing a 78th-minute try by hooker Takuya Kitade to get by a gallant Mie Honda Heat 33-31.

While the loss means Kieran Crowley’s men with enter their Replacement Battle having won just once in the regular season, the outing allowed ex-Argentine back-rower Pablo Matera to add to his match fitness as he returns from the leg injury sustained at the Rugby World Cup.

  • Click here to watch Kubota Spears’ win over Suntory Sungoliath on RugbyPass TV
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