The NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes have almost pulled off a colossal upset in the Japan Top League in a titanic battle with Wayne Smith’s Kobelco Steelers, featuring All Black stars Aaron Cruden, Brodie Retallick and Ben Smith.
The incredible story of the Red Hurricanes this season continued, as another top-class TJ Perenara performance inspired his side to defy all odds with the will to win.
The fiery halfback was involved in nearly everything early, making try-saving tackles and scoring his side’s first try from a set-piece scrum.
Taking an 8-9 pass down the blindside, Perenara played former Sunwolves ace Hayden Parker off with a dummy before scampering toward the try line.
Carrying Parker and loose forward Tom Franklin on his back, he refused to be denied in finding the strength to drive over with leg power.
The score gave the Red Hurricanes the lead back at 8-7 before Kobe’s power up front paid dividends with a penalty try from a scrum five metres out.
In the aftermath of the collapsed scrum, Kobe prop Hiroshi Yamashita took exception with Perenara and started a scuffle with the All Blacks halfback.
Taking on three or four Kobe players, Perenara stood his ground valiantly, which was symbolic of the day’s play.
The Red Hurricanes halfback was involved in striking straight back, playing a nice pass in the lead-up to their second try which was scored from a grubber kick by Springbok winger Makazole Mapimpi.
In a back-and-forth game, a try to fullback Tom Marshall and a penalty goal to Marty Banks gave the Red Hurricanes a 26-19 lead with 12 minutes remaining.
It looked like the underdogs would pull off the most improbable of upsets, before a brilliant play by Aaron Cruden tied things up.
The legendary Chiefs first-five used a little goose step before threading through a well-weighted grubber into the in-goal to set up a Kobe try.
With six minutes remaining the Red Hurricanes had one more chance at history and asked Marty Banks to step up and kick over a penalty to re-claim the lead one more time.
The former Highlanders cult hero, with a history of clinching late wins in big-time matches, calmly slotted the 30-metre penalty with a controlled and assured kicking motion.
That looked to have secured an upset victory until Kobe were given one last chance two minutes into injury time, using a lineout maul from five metres out to score in injury time and break the hearts of the Red Hurricanes.
Replacement hooker Kenta Matsuoka broke away from the back of the maul and smashed through a desperate two-man tackle involving Perenara to steal the match for the Steelers.
Described as one of the games of the season, the Red Hurricanes fell just short 29-31 in a performance that showed the rest of the Top League that they are the real deal.
After losing to Yamaha 33-21 last week, this week’s late loss to second-placed Kobe showed that the early season form was no fluke. NTT Docomo still sit in third place in the conference but the gap between them and the top two sides is now growing.
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