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Robbie Dean's Panasonic Wild Knights attract record attendance for victory over Steve Hansen's Toyota Verblitz

By Tom Vinicombe

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There’s no doubt about it, rugby popularity has skyrocketed in Japan on the back of an incredibly successful 2019 World Cup.


On the field, the Brave Blossoms made the knockout stages of the competition for the first time, besting both Ireland and Scotland in the process.

Off the field, viewers tuned in for matches in droves, with over 54% of the population tuning in at one point or another to witness Japan’s victory over Scotland.

Whilst questions still remain on how Japan can best capitalise on the opportunity that lies in front of them, fans are already showing that there’s a newfound passion for the game in the Land of the Rising Sun, with huge numbers turning out for the Top League already.

Two of last weekend’s matches attracted crowds of over 20,000: Kobelco Steelers, v Canon Eagles and Toshiba Brave Lupus v Suntory Sungoliath.

Continue reading below…

Catch up on all the highlights from Round 1 of the Japanese Top League:

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This weekend, figures have jumped even further.

Saturday’s showcase match saw Steve Hansen’s Toyota Verblitz host Robbie Deans’ Panasonic Wild Knights.

Toyota called on former All Black captain Kieran Read and Word Cup-winning Springbok Willie le Roux while Sam Whitelock and Damian de Allende started for the Wild Knights.


The key man on show, however, was Brave Blossoms wing Kenki Fukuoka, who lit up the World Cup with crucial tries against Ireland, Samoa and Scotland.

Fukuoka has decided to push for a spot at the Olympics with the Japan sevens team and will spend the rest of the season competing in the World Sevens Series. Saturday’s match was Fukuoka’s final game of XVs for the season – and possibly of his career.

Fukuoka’s impending departure likely played a major role in enticing over 37,000 fans to Toyota Stadium – which set a new record attendance for the league.

It was Fukuoka’s travelling Wild Knights who emerged victorious from the contest, comfortably accounting for the home side 40-20.

Fukuoka contributed a try and an assist to Panasonic’s cause while all three South Africans on display, le Roux, de Allende and Lionel Cronje, dotted down for tries of their own.

Top League round 2 Saturday results:

Mitsubishi Dynaboars 15 – 23 Canon Eagles
NEC Green Rockets 17 – 27 Hino Red Dolphins
Yamaha Jubilo 24 – 26 Kobelco Steelers
Toyota Verblitz 20 – 40 Panasonic Wild Knights
Suntory Sungoliath 22 – 10 NTT Shining Arcs
Toshiba Brave Lupus 39 – 21 NTT Red Hurricanes

Catch the round 3 Top League match between Dan Carter’s Kobelco Steelers and Samu Kerevi’s Suntory Sungoliath live on RugbyPass for all subscribers at 1PM JST on Sunday, January 26th.

Jim Hamilton discusses the quality of players currently playing in Japan’s top league:

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Robbie Dean's Panasonic Wild Knights attract record attendance for victory over Steve Hansen's Toyota Verblitz