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Willie le Roux set for first League One match of 2022 in all-star clash

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

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Springboks star Willie le Roux is primed to make his first Japan Rugby League One appearance this season after being named to start for Toyota Verblitz this weekend.


Toyota face the Toshiba Brave Lupus at Komazawa Olympic Park in Tokyo on Saturday in what’s set to be an all-star clash headlined by the inclusion of Le Roux at fullback for the visitors.

The 32-year-old was absent from Toyota’s only match this season, a 50-8 defeat at the hands of Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath a fortnight ago.

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Le Roux’s Springboks teammate Pieter-Steph du Toit and All Blacks lock Patrick Tuipulotu both made their Toyota debuts in that fixture, which is the only match the side has played this season due to Covid-enforced cancellations of other games.

Both of Toyota’s fixtures against the Shizuoka Blue Revs and NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes Osaka were called off due to an outbreak of the virus in the opposition camps, resulting in 10 competition points being awarded to Toyota.

As such, Toyota currently lie in fourth place in Division 1, the top tier of League One, with two default wins and a loss to their name.

Trailing the Black Rams Tokyo, Kubota Spears Funabashi Bay Tokyo and NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu only by points difference, victory over Toshiba could lift Toyota into top spot.


The inclusion of Le Roux, who has been named to start alongside Du Toit, Tuipulotu and captain Kazuki Himeno, may go some way to catapulting Toyota up the table, but they will have to overcome a Toshiba outfit that also has no shortage of star power.

The Brave Lupus have named most of their top foreigners for this weekend’s bout, including ex-All Blacks trio Matt Todd, Tom Taylor and Seta Tamanivalu.

Toshiba will, however, be without Kiwi-born Brave Blossoms lock Warner Dearns and former Chiefs midfielder Johnny Fa’auli, both of whom have been suspended for indiscretions in the side’s win over the Red Hurricanes two weeks ago.

Elsewhere throughout the league, Kubota and the Green Rockets will go toe-to-toe in a clash as the second and third-placed teams in Division 1.


Kubota have signified the importance of the match by promoting Springboks hooker Malcolm Marx into a starting role after he featured off the bench in last week’s defeat to the Kobelco Kobe Steelers in Kobe.


The 2019 World Cup winner is joined in Kubota’s starting lineup by former Wallabies first-five Bernard Foley, while ex-All Blacks midfielder Ryan Crotty has been demoted to the bench.

NEC, meanwhile, have used the match as a chance to hand former Highlanders co-captain and Maori All Blacks stalwart Ash Dixon a chance to earn his debut for the club after having missed the chance to do so in recent weeks due to match cancellations.

Both of NEC’s last two matches were called off as a result of Covid outbreaks, meaning their last match came three weeks ago when they fell to a season-opening defeat to the Yokohama Canon Eagles in Kashiwa.

Nevertheless, the Green Rockets still find themselves in a top four position, and the inclusion of Dixon in their match day side will boost their chances of an upset win over Kubota.

NEC also have the services of Welsh lock Jake Ball and former Super Rugby stars Whetu Douglas, Fletcher Smith and Tom Marshall, all of whom have been named to start.

In Saturday’s other Division 1 fixture, Kobe host the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights in a battle of the heavyweights at Kobe Universiade Memorial Stadium.


The Wild Knights, the reigning Top League champions, have retained Wallabies star Marika Koroibete in their starting backline after his standout debut performance against the Canon Eagles last weekend.

Koroibete is joined by a raft of star figures, including ex-England lock George Kruis and former Wales midfielder Hadleigh Parkes, in the starting lineup.

Numerous Japanese internationals, such as Keita Inagaki, captain Atsushi Sakate, Ben Gunter, Jack Cornelsen and Dylan Riley, are also present in Panasonic’s starting team.

Kobe, on the other hand, have kept ex-All Blacks playmaker Aaron Cruden at No 10 as he looks to guide the Steelers to a second successive victory after last week’s tight win over Kubota.

Cruden is accompanied by former Blues lock Gerard Cowley-Tuioiti and Brave Blossoms representatives Isileli Nakajima, Tim Lafaele and Ryohei Yamanaka in Kobe’s starting team.

No Division 2 matches are scheduled for Saturday, while the Chugoku Red Regulions will look to retain their place at the top of Division 3 when they host Toyota Shuttles Industries in Yamaguchi.


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