Quade Cooper set for reunion with Robbie Deans following dramatic weekend of Top League play-offs
Japan’s Top League has gained a major global promotional boost after a brave Kintetsu Liners overcame the Munakata Sanix Blues 31-21 in the first round of the elimination series on Sunday.
The result put the Liners on a collision course with the Panasonic Wild Knights next Sunday, bringing former Wallabies Quade Cooper and Will Genia into direct confrontation with the coach who first selected them for Australia, Robbie Deans.
Cooper was one of two Australian try-scorers, with Kintetsu’s Queensland-raised skipper Michael Stolberg the other, as the qualifiers from the second-tier challenger tournament overcame the second-half sending off of No.8 Lolo Fakaosilea to dump the Top League side out of the competition.
Kintetsu, who are coached by former Queensland Reds coach Nick Stiles, led 17-14 when Fakaosilea was given his marching orders, but extended their advantage in the final 30 minutes to book a date with the unbeaten Wild Knights.
The Hino Red Dolphins also made it into the second knockout round, beating the Shimizu Blue Sharks 48-20 to secure a game against Michael Hooper’s Toyota Verblitz.
Saturday’s games saw NEC live to fight after day after an 80th-minute penalty goal by former English international Alex Goode allowed the Green Rockets to sneak home 25-24 against the Toyota Shuttles.
The Green Rockets, who have been heavily linked to former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika in recent days, looked dead and buried when they trailed 15-24 with 10 minutes left, and were down to 14 men after ex-NSW Waratahs lock Patrick Tafa was sent to the sin bin.
Their dramatic escape against the Top League challenger tournament victors was even more surprising given they hadn’t won a game for two years.
Alongside Tafa, the Green Rockets fielded the Queensland-raised lock Sam Jefferies, while former Western Force and Queensland Reds coach Richard Graham is on the coaching staff.
NEC play the star-studded Suntory Sungoliath next weekend.
The Mitsubishi Dynaboars also remain afloat but were nearly sunk by another qualifier from the second tier, after trailing the Coca-Cola Red Sparks 17-14 with just four minutes left.
Two tries from Michael Little, the son of the 1990s All Black midfielder Walter Little, enabled Mitsubishi to escape, albeit by a flattering 24-17 score-line.
The Dynaboars face the All Blacks-laden Kobelco Steelers in the next round.
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