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Springbok ex-pats nearly pull off upset of the season in Japan

By Ben Smith
(Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

The Yokohama Canon Eagles put their Japan Rugby League One rivals on notice by pushing league-leaders Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights to the brink of defeat at Kumagaya Sports Culture Park Rugby Field.


Yokohama continued their rise this season by just falling short after a try on full-time denied them one of the upsets of the season.

Holding a 19-14 lead with time nearly up on the clock, the Wild Knights put 10 phases together to steal victory when Tongan-born reserve prop Asaeli Ai Valu crashed over from a metre out to level scores.

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Valu capitalised after a strong carry from Springbok Lood de Jager took multiple Canon defenders to the ground, leaving them vulnerable around the ruck fringes.

Flyhalf Rikiya Matsuda nailed the pressure kick roughly 17 metres in from touch to secure a 21-19 victory that preserved the Wild Knights perfect record with six wins from six outings.

Saitama Panasonic got off to a lucky start when an extremely fortuitous bounce to winger Akira Takeyama gave the home side a 7-0 advantage. Takeyama’s chip kick first bounced inside the dead ball line by less than metre, but popped up backward for the No 14 to pounce on it.

The Eagles relied on their South African ex-pats to strike back when SP Marias combined with Jesse Kriel to almost score. Smart work from scrumhalf Faf de Klerk from the next ruck saw the Springbok dive over from close range.


With the Wild Knights holding a 7-5 lead, De Klerk snuffed out an attacking opportunity deep inside his own half by forcing a penalty at the breakdown with a well executed contest.

Strong defence from Yokohama saw the score remain 7-5 at half-time as the Wild Knights struggled to break them down.

It took another Takeyama chip kick, with another fortuitous bounce, to give the Wild Knights a 14-5 lead. The No 14 again kicked into the in-goal on the full and received a high vertical bounce, which he claimed by going up in the air over the top of two Yokohama players.

In response the Eagles pulled out a spectacular trick play from a penalty tap, with lock Corvus Van Dyke placing the ball on the ground after running right only for De Klerk to pick it up again running left.


The Springbok No 9 put SP Marias into a gap and the fullback waltzed over untouched for a brilliantly worked play.

With seven minutes remaining reserve flanker Sione Halasilli busted through the Wild Knights defence with an incredible individual effort, shaking off four defenders to score under the posts.

The 120kg powerful loose forward looked to have scored the match-winner only for the Wild Knights to rally late after a botched kick receipt from the restart gave the Wild Knights possession straight back.

In other division one league matches, Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo registered a mammoth 60-14 win over the Hanazono Kintetsu Liners while Toyota Verblitz completed a 38-21 win over Kobelco Kobe Steelers.

The Steelers dropped to eighth in the twelve-team division which is unfamiliar territory for the heavyweights of the formerly-known Japan Top League.



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