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Massive crowd turnout for dramatic Toshiba Brave Lupus title win

Brave Lupus Tokyo players celebrate their victory with head coach Todd Blackadder (C) against Saitama Wild Knights in the Japan Rugby League One final at the National Stadium in Tokyo on May 26, 2024. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo by PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)

There was euphoria at one end of the field and heartbreak at the other as Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo won a dramatic final in Japan Rugby League One today, beating the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights 24-20.

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A thrilling game, played in front of a crowd of 57,000 at Tokyo’s National Stadium, saw Brave Blossoms winger Jone Naikabula the individual star, scoring two of his side’s tries, while setting up what proved to be the match-winner for replacement midfielder Yuto Mori.

By the final whistle, legendary ex-Brave Blossoms hooker Shota Horie endured a cruel end to his 16-year career, having the mortification to see a last minute try by Tomoki Osada ruled out after the TMO detected a forward pass from the 38-year-old during a 15-phase build up.

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While the correct call, it was a painful moment for Horie and the Wild Knights, who had every reason to feel aggrieved after Naikabula appeared to ground the ball short of the line when he scored the opening try of the game.

Oddly, it wasn’t referred to the TMO.

Fixture
Japan Rugby League One
Saitama Wild Knights
20 - 24
Full-time
Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo
All Stats and Data

Brave Lupus, who were winning their sixth title since the game went semi-professional in Japan, but the first since the 2009-10 season, were battered in the first quarter, but the Wild Knights managed just two penalty goals for their effort, twice having players held up over the goal-line.

They were costly misses, with both tackles involving the in dominatable former Brave Blossoms skipper Michael Leitch, who was one of Brave Lupus’ best.

Naikabula’s controversial first try, which came in the 27th minute and was converted by Richie Mo’unga gave Brave Lupus the lead, which they extended to 10-6 when the All Black flyhalf kicked a penalty goal six minutes before halftime.

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The Fijian winger struck again a minute before the break, when Wallaby Marika Koroibete was yellow carded for scragging Naikabula around the neck as he broke down the sideline.

It was a massive play which the Wild Knights paid for five minutes into the second half, as Naikabula scored his 12th try of the season, catching the 14-man defence off guard down the short side following an attacking opportunity created by a 50/20 kick from Mo’unga.

At 17-6, Brave Lupus appeared in control with the six-time champions surprisingly rattled, regularly coughing up turnovers as they tried to seize the initiative.

Their persistence was finally rewarded, when two tries in five minutes titled the game in their favour.

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Brisbane-schooled Ben Gunter muscled his way over from a goal-line ruck for the first, which was followed by a try from Taiki Koyama, who capitalised on a kick through by Wild Knights fullback Takuya Yamasawa from which Koroibete received a favourable bounce.

With Brave Blossoms flyhalf Rikiya Matsuda converting both, the Wild Knights led 20-17, before the irrepressible Naikabula intervened again, with another sideline dash setting up Mori to score the game’s final points.

The game’s dramatic conclusion was a devastating finish to Horie’s 16-year career, ending with back-to-back defeats in his last two league finals.

As well as levelling Brave Lupus with the Wild Knights on six titles apiece since the game went semi-professional in Japan, it also provided Todd Blackadder with the first championship success of his coaching career, won opposing his former coach and close mate, Wild Knights boss Robbie Deans.

Mo’unga added a Japanese title to his seven in Super Rugby, outdoing All Black teammates Beauden Barrett and Damien McKenzie who both lost finals against the Wild Knights during stints with Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath.

Sungoliath won yesterday’s third and fourth playoff, beating Yokohama Canon Eagles 40-33, with winger Shota Emi scoring the match winning try in the 80th minute.

The conclusion of promotion/relegation series saw Quade Cooper’s Hanazono Kintetsu Liners drop into Division Two following their 35-30 loss to the Johan Ackerman-coached Urayasu D-Rocks.

Mie Honda Heat and Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo retained their Division One status.

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1 Comment
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swivel 27 days ago

Game had a great finish, so many bad forward pass rulings recently though when the passer gets stopped in his tracks and creates the optical illusion of a forward pass. That last try was deserving of being compared with Toulouse taking Leinster apart at the end. Before that it was like we were watching JGP lob a wide ball for Lowe to keep alive down the touch line long enough for Henshaw too flick a perfect offload back to JGP to score under the posts. I was bored and hardly paying attention to most of the game damn it certainly came alight

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