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Springbok pair help pull off mammoth upset in Japan League One opening weekend

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

Springbok pair Jesse Kriel and Faf de Klerk completed their season debuts for Yokohama Canon Eagles by orchestrating a big upset over Japan’s heavyweight team the Kobelco Kobe Steelers.


The two-time Top League champions who in recent times have signed All Blacks Dan Carter, Ben Smith and Ngani Laumape, have been one of Japan’s powerhouse clubs along with Suntory Sungoliath and Robbie Deans’ Saitama Wild Knights.

The Canon Eagles finished sixth last season in the 12-team first division of the renamed Japan Rugby League One.

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Bolstered by Japanese internationals Yu Tamura and Amanaki Mafi and Springboks Kriel and De Klerk, the revamped Eagles stunned the Steelers with a 39-30 victory in a high-scoring affair at NHK Spring Mitsuzawa Stadium.

De Klerk was in doubt after suffering an ankle injury against England at Twickenham, but came into the game off the bench to offer a crucial cameo.

After Kobe took an early 3-0 lead, flyhalf Tamura got the Eagles on the board scoring the game’s first try from a switch play following a scrum.

Japan’s No 10 sliced through some feeble defence to score and send the bumper home crowd into a frenzy.


Yokohama struck again moments later when Springbok centre Kriel put his fullback into space with a perfectly timed offload to SP Marias off the back of a well-executed attacking shape.

The 33-year-old fullback went over untouched to give the Eagles the dream start after 15 minutes at 12-3.

The Steelers built some momentum to respond with a try to left wing Kanta Matsunaga and the teams traded penalty goals to enter half-time with the game in the balance at 15-13.

Early in the second half, Kriel was involved again in a big play after a strip on Kobe’s No 8 Ataata Moeakiola gave the ball to Canon just outside their own 22.


Launching a counter-attack, Kriel found his left wing for a break down the touchline before a kick in behind forced the Steelers to scramble. They failed to secure the loose ball, allowing the Eagles to recover.

The Springbok centre played scrumhalf and secured his second try assist of the game hitting his lock Cory Hill steaming onto the ball with the Kobe defence struggling to reset.

With half an hour to go holding a 22-13 lead, Faf de Klerk subbed into the game.

The Springbok No 9 produced a key assist to hand Cory Hill his second try of the game, laying on a short pass for the Welsh lock.

Holding a narrow 29-27 lead with seven minutes remaining the Eagles went to the rolling maul and profited when their barnstorming No 8 Amanaki Mafi crashed over to give the side a decent cushion.

Two late penalties kept the Eagles ahead by more than a try and the Steelers could not register a losing point.

In the other Division I Sunday afternoon games, giants Suntory Sungoliath were upset in another stunner by Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay featuring Wallaby Bernard Foley and Springbok hooker Malcolm Marx.

Green Rockets Tokatsu held on to just beat the Hanazono Liners 36-34 who were without star flyhalf Quade Cooper.


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