RiJ Vol.8 No.5, 1 February 2011

Ian McDonnell at ianmcdo@apost.plala.or.jp

 

 

Contents:

¡       Japan Rugby Top League 2010-11: Play-off Final

s     Sanyo Wild Knights (Top League 2) 28 d Suntory Sungoliath (Top League 4) 23

¡       Top League Promotion and Relegation 2010-11: Top Challenge One Round 3 (Final)

s     Honda Heat (Winner TC 2) 37 d Canon Eagles (Top East 1) 32

s     NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes (Top West 1) 50 d Kyushu Denryoku Voltex (Top Kyushu 1) 7

¡       Odds & Sods:

s     IRB Ranking: 13 (13) (71.45, 31 January 2011).

s     The Think-tank: Conflict of Interest

¡       Looking Ahead:

s     48th National Championship

s     Tokyo Sevens 2011

s     2011 A5N

s     2011 PNC in Japan

s     2011 RWC

 

 

RiJ travelled down to Tokyo for the Top League final and when yours truly got home at about ten in the evening it was a brisk -16 degrees here in the mountains. Heaven knows what it got down to after that. Anyway, the rugby was good but unfortunately just over 14,000 rugby fans turned up for what was a very good rugby spectacle and this was the biggest Top League crowd of the season. In soccer, Urawa Reds averaged nearly 40,000 at their home games this past season while the average attendance at J-1 J-League games was about 18,000. And the Top League final gets 14,000? Again, the rugby was good and the standard of Top League continues to rise year after year but surely rugby needs to be redefined in Japan. RiJ continues to address this issue in Conflict of Interest in the comments section. By the way, Sanyo beat Suntory in the final for their first Top League crown, while elsewhere NTT Docomo and Honda Heat have won promotion to Top League for next season through Top Challenge One.

 

The Japan Rugby Top League 2010-11 Play-off Final

 

Top League Champions

2010-11: Sanyo Wild Knights

2009-10: Toshiba Brave Lupus

2008-9: Toshiba Brave Lupus

2007-8: Suntory Sungoliath

2006-7: Toshiba Brave Lupus

2005-6: Toshiba Brave Lupus

2004-5: Toshiba Brave Lupus

2003-4: Kobe Steelers

 

Sanyo Wild Knights (Top League 2) 28 d Suntory Sungoliath (Top League 4) 23

 

Sanyo 28 – Tries: Yu Young-Nam, Akihito Yamada and Tadasuke Nishihara; Conversions: Atsushi Tanabe 2; Penalties: Tanabe 3 d

Suntory 23 – Tries: Yasunori Nagatomo 2 and George Gregan; Conversion: Peter Hewat; Penalties: Ryan Nicholas 2.

 

Date: Sunday, 30 January 2011.

Venue: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, Tokyo.

Kick-off: 14:00.

Referee: Shinji Aida.

Halftime: Sanyo 6 – Suntory 11.

Man-of-the-match (MVP): Akihito Yamada (Sanyo No.11).

Attendance: 14,390.

Conditions: cloudy, cold with gusty southerly wind; surface soft but reasonable.

 

Sanyo: 1- Jungo Kikawa, 2- Shota Horie, 3- Tomokazu Soma, 4- Daniel Heenan, 5- Yuji Kitagawa, 6- Yu Young-Nam, 7- Daishi Wakamatsu, 8- Koliniasi Ryu Holani, 9- Fumiaki Tanaka, 10- Tony Brown, 11- Akihito Yamada, 12- Sam Norton-Knight, 13- Seiichi Shimomura (c), 14- Tomoki Kitagawa and 15- Atsushi Tanabe. Reserves: 16- Mitsugu Yamamoto, 17- Naoki Kawamata, 18- Justin Ives, 19- Tadasuke Nishihara, 20- Atsushi Takayasu, 21- Masakazu Irie and 22- Takashi Yoshida. Coach: Hitoshi Iijima.

 

Suntory: 1- Tateo Kanai, 2- Yusuke Aoki, 3- Kensuke Hatakeyama, 4- Koji Shinozuka, 5- Shinya Makabe, 6- Todd Clever, 7- Takamichi Sasaki, 8- Juntaro Takemoto (c), 9- Atsushi Hiwasa, 10- Tusi Pisiata, 11- Hirotoki Onozawa, 12- Ryan Nicholas, 13- Koji Taira, 14- Yasunori Nagatomo and 15- Go Aruga. Reserves: 16- Takashi Yamaoka, 17- Yosuke Ikegaya, 18- Taichi Tahara, 19- Shinki Gen, 20- George Gregan, 21- Peter Hewat and 22- Satoshi Oshima. Coach: Eddie Jones.

 

 

Recent Encounters

Suntory 17 d Sanyo 15 (TL 2010-11)

Sanyo 16 drew with Suntory 16 (TL 2009-10)

Sanyo 24 d Suntory 16 (National Championship final 2009)

Sanyo 32 d Suntory 22 (Microsoft Cup semi-final 2009)

Sanyo 19 d Suntory 9 (TL 2008-9)

Sanyo 40 d Suntory 18 (National Championship final 2008)

Suntory 14 d Sanyo 10 (Microsoft Cup final 2008)

Sanyo 35 d Suntory 24 (TL 2007-8)

Suntory 41 d Sanyo 16 (TL 2006-7)

Sanyo 25 d Suntory 10 (TL 2005-6)

Sanyo 41 d Suntory 35 (TL 2004-5)

Suntory 26 d Sanyo 7 (TL 2003-4)

 

Final Preview

In the first Japan Rugby Top League Play-off semi-final at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo last Saturday, Suntory Sungoliath beat reigning Top League champions Toshiba Brave Lupus 17-12 to book their place in the final. Twenty-four hours later at the same venue, Sanyo Wild Knights beat Toyota Verblitz 32-10 to make it to the final for the fourth year in a row.

 

The final to crown the Top League champion for the 2010-11 season is a repeat of the decider from the 2007-8 big one where Suntory beat Sanyo 14-10 to claim their only Top League title to date.

 

On the other hand, it has been a hard road to hoe for Sanyo as after finishing runner-up to Suntory they again took second prize in 2008-9 and 2009-10, losing to Toshiba on both occasions. There has been some compensation for Sanyo, however, as the Wild Knights have won the National Championship title for the past three years, but at their fourth attempt in a row they will be desperately working towards their first illusive Top League title. In some ways, Sanyo’s run in Top League finals mirrors their fortunes in the pre-Top League era when they finished runner-up nine times in the Corporate Championship before taking their one and only Corporate title in 1996, albeit they shared the title with none other than Suntory after the final was drawn 27-all.

 

Since losing the 2007-8 Top League final to Suntory, head-to-head Sanyo then had a run of five wins in a row that included the 2008 and 2009 National Championship finals. However, that winning streak was brought to an end in mid-December when the Sungoliath beat the Wild Knights 17-15 in round ten of the regular 2010-11 Top League season. That was one of only two losses for Sanyo, with the other coming at the hands of Toyota in the final round as the Knights went on to take second place on the table with 55 points from 11 wins and 2 losses.

 

Suntory finished the season in fourth place on the table on 50 points from 10 wins and 3 losses. Suntory are now under the guidance of former Wallabies head coach Eddie Jones and the slogan for the season has been ‘Aggressive, Attacking Rugby’ and excluding halfback and five-eighth the backline is virtually the Japan national side line-up with centres Ryan Nicholas and Koji Taira along with left wing Hirotoki Onozawa first choices in the Japan side while right wing Yasunori Nagatomo and fullback Go Aruga have been in and out of the Japan side over recent seasons. The Suntory forwards too are off the top shelf with nearly all the pack, perhaps with the exception of captain and No8 Juntaro Takemoto having international experience.

 

Sanyo too are a well balanced side as they finished the rounds with the best figures in both attack and defence. Wings Tomoki Kitagawa and Akihito Yamada are class players while Tony Brown is still as good as they come at five-eighth and fullback Atsushi Tanabe is an assured goal kicker. The bulk and quality up front that includes locks Daniel Heenan and Justin Ives as well as No8 Koliniasi Ryu Holani and hooker Shota Horie will not be taking a backward step in the Sanyo quest to lift their inaugural Top League trophy.

 

Final Wrap-up

A new Japan Rugby Top League champion was crowned at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo on Sunday 30 January 2011 when Sanyo Wild Knights defeated Suntory Sungoliath 28-23 in the final of the 2010-11 Top League Play-off Series.

 

Sanyo finished the regular season in second place on the table behind Toshiba Brave Lupus with 55 points from 11 wins and 2 losses while Suntory finished the season in fourth place on 50 points from 10 wins and 3 losses. One of those losses for Sanyo came in mid-December when the Sungoliath beat the Wild Knights 17-15 in round ten while the other loss came at the hands of Toyota in the final round. Thus for Sanyo the Play-off series put to rest the demons of those two losses as they took revenge, firstly over Toyota in the semi-finals when they won 32-10 and then in the final with this 28-23 victory over Suntory. 

 

Sanyo five-eighth Tony Brown kicked off proceedings from the northern scoreboard end of the ground with Suntory failing to take the kick cleanly, a feature that repeatedly haunted the Sungoliath throughout the game at re-starts. In the opening minutes of the final Sanyo camped in the Suntory half and although fullback Atsushi Tanabe missed his first attempt at penalty early on, all the initial momentum was with the Knights. However, when Suntory lock Koji Shinozuka latched onto a loose pass to race into the Sanyo 22 before being brought down, the subsequent pressure produced the first points of the match with centre Ryan Nicholas slotting a penalty in the seventh minute. Tanabe returned fire in the tenth minute to even things up only for Nicholas to regain the lead for Suntory with his second penalty in the seventeenth minute when Brown was caught off-side at the breakdown.

 

From that point on the flow of the game seemed to be with Suntory who evened up the possession and territory stakes and settled into their own rhythm of quick recycled ball. Nevertheless, the game developed into a final style arm wrestle with Sanyo, who have the best defensive record in the league this season, repelling everything Suntory could throw at them. No.8 Koliniasi Ryu Holani, lock Daniel Heenan and hooker Shota Horie led the way in defence with some big hits that denied the Sungoliath the extra time and space they needed to set up their lethal backs. Tanabe then again levelled the scores at 6-all with a 40 metre penalty on the half hour mark when Suntory were penalised for not rolling away at the breakdown but with the clock ticking down to halftime Suntory captain and No8 Juntaro Takemoto found a gap in the Sanyo defence to hit it up deep into the Sanyo 22 area. Over the ensuing phases, right wing Yasunori Nagatomo eventually scooted over the Sanyo goal line in the right hand corner for the opening try of the match. Nicholas missed the conversion but at the end of the first forty minutes of play Suntory led 11-6 into the halftime break.

 

For the second half, Sanyo coach Hitoshi Iijima strategically replaced lock Yuji Kitagawa for flanker Tadasuke Nishihara with the starting blindside breakaway Yu Young-Nam moving into the second row. Effectively then, Sanyo had a very mobile back five and as the second half progressed the tide started to turn at the breakdown with the Wild Knights gaining the ascendancy. At crucial times, Sanyo turned over Suntory ball in the loose while the penalty count also started to mount against the Sungoliath.

 

Tanabe missed an early long range penalty that dropped short but from a further penalty deep in the Suntory 22 in the seventh minute, halfback Fumiaki Tanaka read the lay of the land and took an unexpected quick tap that caught the Sungoliath defence off guard. With Sanyo on the attack, Yu Young-Nam picked up a pass on his bootlaces to plunge over the line for the first Knights try of the final. Tanabe landed the conversion from close to the right hand touchline to help Sanyo nab a 13-11 lead and this seemed to spur the Knights into action.

 

A few minutes later, Yu was again in the thick of it after Brown snuffled the ball from a Suntory forward and with the ball quickly flung left Yu put through a deft grubber kick for wing Akihito Yamada to get a fortuitous bounce and touchdown for the second Sanyo try in quick succession. Tanabe failed with the conversion and a further attempt at penalty in the fifteenth minute when Suntory were penalised for not releasing the ball at the breakdown but when Suntory were again penalised for collapsing a scrum a few minutes later Tanabe potted the kick to widen the margin to 21-11.

 

The decisive play in the half came around the hour mark when virtually every Sanyo player on the field, perhaps with the exception of wing Yamada, committed to a rolling maul to push Nishihara across the Suntory try line for the third Knights try of the final and when Tanabe converted the try to stretch the lead to 28-11 it meant Suntory needed at least three scores to take the crown.

 

Suntory were not about to die wondering though and in the thirty-third minute replacement halfback George Gregan scored off a quick tap to narrow the deficit to 28-16 before Nagatomo crossed for his second five-pointer late in the game. However, Sanyo had enough of a buffer and the fulltime hooter sounded in the background as Peter Hewat successfully converted the Nagatomo try as Sanyo took the win 28-23.

 

At the post-match press conference, Suntory head coach Eddie Jones commented, “ We won the first half, but for a 20 minute period in the second half we played badly, Sanyo scored 22 points and that was the game.” He went on to add, “We have to learn from that, better understand the breakdown and we can win the National Championship.” Despite the loss in the final, Jones pointed out that the team had really improved throughout the season and was happy with the way they have been playing. He also felt the team got off at the wrong bus stop today but that the journey for a team never ends.

 

On the other hand, Sanyo head coach Hitoshi Iijima said, “After being on the losing side in so many finals over our 51 year history, this side built on the spirit of former players and learnt from the losses to take out first outright victory in a corporate league final.” Captain Seiichi Shimomura also added, “From spring training we have been working to win the Top League title this year. All the players put in and in our fourth final in a row we finally won.”  

 

Sanyo left wing Akihito Yamada was named man-of-the-match in the final after the 25-year-old former Keio University star scored crucial tries, firstly in the semi-final against Toyota and then again in the final against Suntory. Furthermore, his commitment in both attack and defence greatly contributed to Sanyo’s win in the final.

 

 

Semi-final One

Suntory Sungoliath (Top League 4) 17 d Toshiba Brave Lupus (Top League 1) 12

Date: Saturday, 22 January 2011

Venue: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, Tokyo

Kick-off: 14:00

Attendance: 7,449

 

Semi-final Two

Sanyo Wild Knights (Top League 2) 32 d Toyota Verblitz (Top League 3) 10

Date: Sunday, 23 January 2011

Venue: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, Tokyo

Kick-off: 14:00

Attendance: 5,600

 

 

Japan Rugby Top League Table after Round Thirteen (Final)

 

Team

P

W

D

L

F

A

Diff

BP1

BP2

Pts

1

Toshiba

13

11

0

2

483

210

273

11

2

57

2

Sanyo

13

11

0

2

545

163

382

9

2

55

3

Toyota

13

11

0

2

446

261

185

9

2

55

4

Suntory

13

10

0

3

543

251

292

9

1

50

5

Kobe

13

7

0

6

395

279

116

6

2

36

6

NEC

13

7

0

6

276

332

-56

5

1

34

7

Ricoh

13

6

0

7

364

389

-25

4

4

32

8

Sanix

13

5

1

7

357

472

-115

7

3

32

9

Kintetsu

13

6

0

7

277

344

-67

4

3

31

10

Coca-Cola

13

5

0

8

250

438

-188

5

3

28

11

Yamaha

13

5

0

8

327

504

-177

5

2

27

12

NTT

13

4

0

9

271

343

-72

3

5

24

13

Kubota

13

1

1

11

224

443

-219

3

2

11

14

Toyota Jido

13

1

0

12

229

558

-329

3

4

11

Four points for win, two for draw, one bonus point for four tries or more (BP1) and one bonus point for losing by seven or less (BP2).

Top four finishers qualify for the Play-off Series, the finals series for Top League.

Bottom two finishers are automatically relegated.

Teams that finish 11th and 12th go through promotion and relegation play-offs against regional challengers.

 

 

Top League Promotion and Relegation: Top Challenge Series 2010-11

 

At the completion of the thirteen rounds of the 2010-11 Japan Rugby Top League competition the two teams that finish in fourteenth and thirteenth places, that is, last and second last are automatically relegated to the regional leagues that feed into Top League. The Top Challenge Series determines which two sides from the regional leagues will be promoted to replace the two relegated teams for the 2011-12 Japan Rugby Top League season.

 

There are some slight changes to the Top Challenge Series 2010-11 with Top Challenge One being increased to four teams with the inclusion of the winner of Top Challenge Two.

 

In Top Challenge Two, the three sides that finished in second position in the three regional leagues, that is, Tokyo Gas (Top East), Honda Heat (Top West) and Mazda Zoomers (Top Kyushu) played off with Honda Heat as the winner progressing to Top Challenge One.

 

In Top Challenge One, the three sides that finished in first position in the three regional leagues, that is, Canon Eagles (Top East), NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes (Top West), Kyushu Denryoku Voltex (Top Kyushu) together with Honda Heat as the winner of Top Challenge Two play each other once with NTT Docomo and Honda as the top two teams gaining automatic promotion to Top League for the 2011-12 season.

 

Furthermore, Canon as the team that finished third in Top Challenge One has a second bite of the cherry in a one-off promotion and relegation play-off with the NTT Communications as the team that finishes twelfth in Top League while Kyuden as the team that finished fourth in Top Challenge One plays the Yamaha as the team that finished eleventh in Top League.

 

Top Challenge One 2010-11

The sides to contest Top Challenge One 2010-11 are: Canon Eagles (Top East), NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes (Top West), Kyushu Denryoku Voltex (Top Kyushu) together with Honda Heat as the winner of Top Challenge Two.

 

Round 1

Honda Heat (Winner TC 2) 34 d Kyushu Denryoku Voltex (Top Kyushu 1) 19

Date: Saturday, 15 January 2011

Venue: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, Tokyo

Kick-off: 12:00

 

Preview

Kyushu Electric Power Company Inc. Rugby Football Club, or put more simply Kyuden played in Top League for three consecutive seasons from 2007-8 to 2009-10 but were relegated back to the Top Kyushu competition after finishing last in their final season. After one season playing back in the much weaker Kyushu league Kyuden topped the table and are now vying for a return to the premier league through the Top Challenge Series with the help of such players as former Wallabies fullback Chris Latham. On the other hand, Honda Heat were relegated along with Kyuden at the end of the 2009-10 season after just the one season in Top League and they finished second in the Top West competition this year behind NTT Docomo. Honda beat Mazda 52-27 and Tokyo Gas 40-15 in Top Challenge Two to win their way through to Top Challenge One.

 

Wrap-up

After winning Top Challenge Two in order to qualify for Top Challenge One, Honda Heat got off to a good start with a strong 34-19 win over Kyuden Voltex in Tokyo on Saturday 15 January 2011. Honda scored four tries to one with diminutive wing Masahiko Kimura picking up a first half double as the Heat got out to a 21-10 lead by the end of the first forty minutes of play. Kyuden narrowed the difference to 28-19 at one stage in the second half on the back of three penalties to captain and five-eighth Genki Saito but centre Lloyd Johansson finished with two penalties to seal victory for Honda.

 

 

NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes (Top West 1) 38 d Canon Eagles (Top East 1) 7

Date: Saturday, 15 January 2011

Venue: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, Tokyo

Kick-off: 14:00

 

Preview

Canon Eagles and NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes are something of surprise packages in the 2010-11 season with both sides performing strongly in their respective regional leagues as they attempt to qualify for Top League for the very first time. Canon built up their resources over the off-season and this paid off as they went through the Top East competition winning all of their eleven games. The Eagles acquired a number of players with Top League experience, particularly from Sanyo, Secom and IBM while Japan centre Alisi Tupuailei came across from Honda, Fijian No8 Tomasi Soqeta joined the team from Suntory, as well, former Chiefs back Callum Bruce, and former Springboks lock Albert van den Berg also bolstered the ranks at Canon this season. It is a similar story with NTT Docomo with a number of former World and NEC players joining the squad such as former national captain and No8 Takuro Miuchi.

 

Wrap-up

NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes inflicted the first loss of the season on the highly fancied Canon Eagles to claim an emphatic 38-7 win in the opening round of Top Challenge One in Tokyo on the weekend. NTT Docomo ran in four first half tries to take a handsome 24-0 lead into halftime and when former Japan international hooker Naonori Mizuyama crossed for the fifth NTT in the second minute of the second half the game was all but gone for Canon. That is the way the rest of the match played out with both sides adding a converted try to the scoreboard and NTT going on to record a comprehensive 38-7 win.

 

 

 

Round 2

NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes (Top West 1) 23 d Honda Heat (Winner TC2) 14

Date: Saturday, 22 January 2011

Venue: Level Five Stadium, Fukuoka

Kick-off: 12:00

 

Preview

NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes are something of a surprise package in the 2010-11 season but they performed strongly to top the Top West regional league as they attempt to qualify for Top League for the very first time. In the opening round of Top Challenge One in Tokyo last Saturday they continued their good form to come up with an impressive 38-7 win over the Canon Eagles, who had gone through the Top East competition winning all of their eleven games. On the other hand, Honda Heat were relegated along with Kyuden at the end of the 2009-10 season after just the one season in Top League and they finished second in the Top West competition this year behind none other than NTT Docomo. Honda beat Mazda 52-27 and Tokyo Gas 40-15 in Top Challenge Two to win their way through to Top Challenge One where they beat Kyuden 34-19 last week in round one. NTT Docomo and Honda play out of the Kansai based Top West competition and they met on two occasions this season with the Hurricanes winning both games. Firstly, they won 27-21 in mid October during the regular season and then 39-30 in early December in the final placement rounds. Both are coming into this game with wins under their belts from the opening round and the reward for the winner will be a big step towards promotion to Top League.

 

Wrap-up

In the second round of the Top Challenge One series, NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes made it two wins from two starts when they beat Honda Heat 23-14 in Fukuoka on Saturday, 22 January 2011. NTT Docomo beat Canon Eagles 38-7 in the first round and with one game left to play against Kyuden Voltex in Osaka next Saturday the Red Hurricanes have secured promotion to Japan Rugby Top League for the 2011-12 season for the very first time. The Hurricanes have 9 points from their two games and with Canon and Honda both on 5 points the worst NTT can finish is second with the top two sides to gain automatic promotion. NTT Docomo led for all but a few minutes of this vital match after getting out to a 13-7 lead at halftime. Honda fought back though and by the hour mark had their noses in front 14-13, but a converted try to centre Takehiro Kiyose soon thereafter followed by a penalty to New Zealand born five-eighth Hamish Gard regained the lead for the Osaka based NTT Docomo and from there they held on to claim victory.

 

 

Canon Eagles (Top East 1) 32 d Kyushu Denryoku Voltex (Top Kyushu 1) 13

Date: Saturday, 22 January 2011

Venue: Level Five Stadium, Fukuoka

Kick-off: 14:00

 

Preview

The Canon Eagles built up their resources over the off-season and this paid off handsomely as they went through the Top East competition winning all of their eleven games. The Eagles acquired a number of players with Top League experience, particularly from Sanyo, Secom and IBM while Japan centre Alisi Tupuailei came across from Honda, Fijian No8 Tomasi Soqeta joined the team from Suntory, as well, former Chiefs back Callum Bruce, and former Springboks lock Albert van den Berg also bolstered the ranks at Canon this season. However, things came unstuck last weekend when the highly fancied Eagles lost 38-7 to NTT Docomo in the opening round of Top Challenge One in Tokyo. Kyuden played in Top League for three consecutive seasons from 2007-8 to 2009-10 but were relegated back to the Top Kyushu competition after finishing last in their final season. They qualified for Top Challenge One as the top Kyushu side but they too suffered an opening loss last Saturday when they went down 34-19 to Honda. Top League promotion may become impossible with a second loss for the loser and so this will be a grand final for both outfits.

 

Wrap-up

After going down to NTT Docomo 38-7 in the opening round of the Top Challenge One series last weekend, Canon Eagles opened their account in round two with a strong 32-13 win over Kyuden Voltex in Fukuoka on Saturday. Canon were out to an early 17-0 lead but Kyuden pegged back the deficit to 17-13 by halftime, only for the Eagles to totally dominate the second half. The Eagles crossed the Voltex line twice in the latter half with former Springboks lock Albert van den Berg one of the scorers. Centre Ryohei Mitomo then put the icing on the cake with a late penalty to close out the game 32-13. With NTT Docomo now assured of promotion, whatever the result against Kyuden in the final round, it is left to Canon and Honda to fight it out for the remaining automatic promotion spot.

 

 

 

Round 3

Honda Heat (Winner TC2) 37 d Canon Eagles (Top East 1) 32

Date: Saturday, 29 January 2011

Venue: Kintetsu Hanazono Rugby Ground, Osaka

Kick-off: 12:00

 

Preview

The third and final round of the Top Challenge One series is to be played as a double header at the Kintetsu Hanazono Rugby Ground in Osaka on Saturday 29 January 2011. In the early game, Canon Eagles go into battle against Honda Heat with the winner taking the remaining automatic promotion spot to Top League for next season. NTT Docomo have earned promotion regardless of the result against Kyuden but with Canon and Honda both locked on 5 points from one win and one loss each this promises to be a close fought contest. Both Canon and Honda lost to NTT Docomo while both also beat Kyuden and so it all comes down to this final game to see which side secures promotion. Canon are hoping to play in Top League for the very first time, while on the other hand, Honda are looking to rejoin the premier division after they were relegated along with Kyuden at the end of the 2009-10 season after just the one season.

 

Wrap-up

The third and final round of the Top Challenge One series was played as a double header at the Kintetsu Hanazono Rugby Ground in Osaka on Saturday 29 January 2011. In the early game, Canon Eagles lost to Honda Heat 37-32 with Honda as the winner taking the remaining automatic promotion spot to Top League for next season. Canon were hoping to play in Top League for the very first time, while on the other hand, Honda will rejoin the premier division after they were relegated along with Kyuden at the end of the 2009-10 season after just the one season. Honda scored five tries to four and although Canon were first on the scoreboard it was Honda that took an 18-12 lead into halftime. By the halfway mark of the second half the scores were locked at 25-all but two further Honda tries pushed the Heat ahead 37-25 inside the final ten minutes. Canon had the final say with a late try but by then the real damage was done with Honda winning 37-32. Canon now go on to play NTT Communications Shining Arcs who finished twelfth in Top League in the final promotion and relegation play-off.

 

NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes (Top West 1) 50 d Kyushu Denryoku Voltex (Top Kyushu 1) 7

Date: Saturday, 29 January 2011

Venue: Kintetsu Hanazono Rugby Ground, Osaka

Kick-off: 14:00

 

Preview

In the latter game, NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes play Kyushu Denryoku Voltex. NTT Docomo won their opening two games against Canon and Honda and they will be looking to make a clean sweep of Top Challenge One with a win over Kyuden. The Hurricanes have nine points from their two games played and so the worst they can finish is second, enough to guarantee automatic qualification to Top League for next season. They cannot let down their guard though, as a win will see them top the table and thereby qualify for the up-coming National Championship as the Top Challenger. It is a different story for Kyuden, however, as they have lost two from two and so the direct route back into Top League is now closed. Nevertheless, there is still one chance left with the final Top League promotion and relegation play-offs against either Yamaha or NTT Communications yet to be played.

 

Wrap-up

In the latter game, NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes beat Kyushu Denryoku Voltex 50-7. NTT Docomo won their opening two games against Canon and Honda and made a clean sweep of Top Challenge One with this comprehensive win over Kyuden. The Hurricanes have fourteen points from their three games played and thus automatically qualify for Top League for next season. Furthermore, as they top the Top Challenge One table they thereby qualify for the up-coming National Championship as the Top Challenger. NTT all but had things wrapped up at halftime after running in four unanswered first half tries to lead 26-0 at the break. It was more of the same in the second half with another four tries with Kyuden only getting on the board with a Tim Atkinson try on the hour mark. At the end of play, NTT won handsomely 50-7. Despite losing all three games in Top Challenge One, there is still one chance left for Kyuden with the final Top League promotion and relegation play-off against the eleventh placed Top League finisher in the form of Yamaha Jubilo yet to be played.

 

Pos.

Team

P

W

L

F

A

+/-

Pts.

1

NTT Docomo

3

3

0

111

28

83

14

2

Honda

3

2

1

85

74

11

10

3

Canon

3

1

2

71

88

-17

7

4

Kyuden

3

0

3

39

116

-77

0

 

 

Top Challenge Two 2010-11

The three sides that contested Top Challenge Two 2010-11 were: Tokyo Gas (Top East), Honda Heat (Top West) and Mazda Zoomers (Top Kyushu).

 

Honda Heat (Top West 2) 52 d Mazda Zoomers (Top Kyushu 2) 27

Date: Sunday, 19 December 2010

Venue: Takaragaike Stadium, Kyoto

Kick-off: 14:00

Honda Heat opened their account in the Top Challenge Two Series with a 52-27 win over Mazda Zoomers. Honda played one season in Top League in 2009-10 and are looking to fight their way back into the top division through the Top Challenge Series. On the other hand, Mazda Zoomers as the runner-up in the Top Kyushu regional league are vying for promotion for the first time but the odds are now lengthening with this first up loss.

 

Tokyo Gas (Top East 2) 53 d Mazda Zoomers (Top Kyushu 2) 22

Date: Saturday, 25 December 2010

Venue: Level Five Stadium, Fukuoka

Kick-off: 12:00

This game was played prior to the round 12 Top League fixture between Sanix and Toshiba that kicked off at 14:00 at the same venue. This was a must win game for Mazda Zoomers as after losing to Honda Heat last Sunday in Kyoto they would be eliminated from the race to win the Top Challenge Two title should they lose to Tokyo Gas. In a score line that was very similar to the first game Mazda lost 53-22 to end their challenge campaign for the season. Tokyo Gas scored seven tries to three and after leading 24-3 at the break were never headed for the rest of the game. It is now a case of winner takes all in the final Top Challenge Two game between Tokyo Gas and Honda Heat in Tokyo early in the New Year.

 

Honda Heat (Top West 2) 40 d Tokyo Gas (Top East 2) 15

Date: Monday, 3 January 2011

Venue: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, Tokyo

Kick-off: 14:00

In a winner-take-all clash between Kanto based Tokyo Gas and visiting Kansai based Honda Heat the latter lived to fight another day with a brave 40-15 win over the home side at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo on Monday, 3 January 2011. After both sides beat Mazda Zoomers in the first two games in the Top Challenge Two series the winner of this encounter was headed for Top Challenge One series with the loser bowing out for the season. Honda used the weight of their experience playing in Top League the previous season in 2009-10 to get them on the front foot in the second half when it mattered after taking a 19-10 into halftime. Honda added three second half tries to one with wing Masahiko Kimura crossing twice to ensure the Heat the fourth and final place in the Top Challenge One series.

 

 

Final Top League Promotion and Relegation Play-offs

Yamaha Jubilo (Top League 11th) v Kyuden Voltex (Top Challenge One 4th)

Date: Saturday 12 February 2011

Venue: Yamaha Stadium, Shizuoka

Kick-off: 13:00

 

NTT Communications Shining Arcs (Top League 12th) v Canon Eagles (Top Challenge One 3rd)

Date: Saturday 12 February 2011

Venue: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, Tokyo

Kick-off: 14:00

 

Odds & Sods

Odds & Sods brings the reader weekly news shorts, gossip and general happenings from the world of Rugby in Japan.

 

News in Japan: Catching the headlines in Japan this week are:

 

IRB ranking on 31 January 2011 - Japan were 13 (71.45).

 

The Think-tank: Conflict of Interest

Over recent issues RiJ has been commenting along the lines of the need for reform in the way Japanese rugby is structured. Last issue (Vol.8 No.4) in Whole Lot Goin’ on, but Not Much Happenin, RiJ had trouble seeing the wood for the trees with so many tournaments all happening at the same time. Further, in Vol.8 No.3, in Wildcard Not the Way Forward, RiJ noted that the Wildcard Tournament, as one example is not worth the effort.

 

From the RiJ viewpoint, rugby is being pulled in many different directions and that having so many things happening at the same time is a conflict that only weakens and dilutes the overall welfare and future development of the sport in this country.

 

In many respects, Top League and University are more foes than friends. The two systems are more rivals than anything and do not particularly complement each other all that well. To some extent, broadly speaking it reminds this writer of the situation of Rugby Union and Rugby League. The two games are off-shoots of the one seed and although there is a lot of cross-over there are also a lot of glaring differences. Many people are black or white in their allegiance to one code or the other and although there is also the gray zone, by and large they are competing for the same corporate dollars and community hearts and minds.

 

From where RiJ stands, another example of a conflict of interest in Japanese rugby is Top League versus the National Championship. Year after year rugby supporters are left wondering what really is the number one title in domestic Japanese rugby. The 2011 running of the National Championship is the forty-eighth edition of the event but unfortunately it has not changed with the times and is nothing more than an out-dated dinosaur. It has long past its use-by date but as things stand on the domestic calendar it still holds pride of place as the climax to the season that brings down the curtain on the local scene for another year. Winning the Top League title is tougher than winning the Championship title and the gap is widening season by season.

 

To look at this past weekend, RiJ sat down on Sunday afternoon to watch the second Top League semi-final live on J-Sports between Sanyo and Toyota that kicked-off at 2 o’clock in Tokyo. Checking out the TV guide RiJ noticed that on the next J-Sports channel the Wildcard game between Kobe and Sanix was also being screened live from Osaka at exactly the same time, while on the next channel was a re-run of a recent Heineken Cup game again at the same time. Spoilt for choice to be sure, but isn’t this a conflict of interest? The semi between Sanyo and Toyota surely must have been given the highest priority and so why in the hell was the Wildcard game scheduled to compete head-to-head on J-Sports with the Top League game with a Heineken Cup game thrown in only to compound the problem further? Top League should be given top billing and nothing else should be going on over the weekends of the semis and the final. All focus should be on these three games.

 

Out of interest, RiJ also looked at the attendances at some of the games over the weekend. On Saturday at Chichibu in Tokyo, the first Top League semi between Toshiba and Suntory drew 7,449 fans while 24 hours later the second semi between Sanyo and Toyota drew 5,600 fans. Meanwhile, the Sunday Wildcard double header in Osaka that featured NEC v Ricoh and Kobe v Sanix attracted 4,041 fans. Also in the mix was the second round double header of Top Challenge One in Fukuoka on Saturday with NTT Docomo playing Honda and Canon taking on Kyuden that incredibly topped the lot with 7,643 in attendance.

 

RiJ contests that having these three events happening on the one weekend and competing with each other for air time is a conflict of interest and is not in the best interests of rugby in Japan. The attendances bear this out too with 7,449 and 5,600 people attending the two Top League semi-finals that featured by far and away the four best rugby teams in Japan in the Greater Tokyo area that has a population of over 35 million people with three of those four sides based in the Greater Tokyo area. Furthermore, how is it that Top Challenge One featuring four lower division teams can draw a bigger crowd than the Top League semi-finals? RiJ just cannot reconcile this fact!

 

How is it that a lower division game can draw a bigger crowd than a Top League semi-final while these figures in turn pall in significance with university games. There were 25,458 for the university final a few weeks ago and 42,729 fronted for Waseda v Meiji in early December and Sanyo v Toyota gets 5,600? What gives?

 

Some of those university boys will go on to be stars of tomorrow but many, the majority will not make it in senior level rugby while the bulk of the Japan national side is concentrated in Toshiba, Sanyo, Toyota and Suntory with a healthy sprinkling of former All Blacks and Wallabies to boot. Yet, the figures just do not add up.

 

Isn’t it time the JRFU had a long, hard look at the structure of rugby in Japan? Isn’t it time for a serious re-think of how things are done? Isn’t it time to reform the system so that a better balance is put in place whereby senior level rugby is more attractive to the general public and the sport becomes more mainstream rather than stuck out there on the fringes as a nice warm and fuzzy college sport that a few companies also happen to play?

 

Isn’t it time?

 

Looking Ahead

Looking Ahead gives the reader future dates for the diary and other great things to look forward to in Rugby in Japan.

 

 

The 48th National Championship 2011

Prior to 2009, the National Championship (NC) had an 8-team format for three years, but for 2009 the number of teams was increased to ten with the inclusion of two extra Top League sides. Thus, the NC now involves six Top League sides, the two top university teams, the winner of the Top Challenge Series and the Top Club team. The first round of the 48th National Championship 2011 kicks off on Sunday, 6 February 2011.

 

For 2010 the Wildcard Tournament was introduced for the Top League sides that finished fifth to tenth on the final table. These six sides play off over two weekends to determine the final two Top League participants after the top four Top League finishers gained automatic qualification.

 

The two universities that participated in the 47th National University Championship final gained admission to the NC. Teikyo University defeated Waseda University 17-12 in the final and consequently Teikyo as University 1 play Tamariva as the Club Champion in the first round while Waseda as University 2 play the team that finishes first in the Top Challenge series as the Top Challenger.

 

This year, Canon Eagles (Top East), NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes (Top West), Kyushu Denryoku Voltex (Top Kyushu) together with Honda Heat as the winner of Top Challenge Two contested the Top Challenge One series with the winner gaining automatic entry to the NC as the Top Challenger.

 

Tamariva (Kanto 2) and Hokkaido Barbarians (Kanto 1) played the final of the 18th National Club Championship at Chichibu in Tokyo on Sunday 23 January 2011 as a curtain raiser to the Sanyo - Toyota semi-final of the Top League Play-offs to determine the Top Club participant in the NC. In a game where the lead changed several times, the Barbarians held on to a 22-21 lead for most of the final twenty minutes only for fullback Kota Endo to kick a late penalty to secure a 24-22 win for the Kanagawa prefecture based Tamariva side.

 

First Round

Date: Sunday, 6 February 2011

Venues: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, Tokyo and Kintetsu Hanazono Rugby Ground, Osaka

Toshiba Brave Lupus (Top League) v NEC Green Rockets (Top League Wildcard), Hanazono, 14:00

Teikyo University (University 1) v Tamariva (Club Champion), Chichibu, 14:00

Waseda University (University 2 v NTT Docomo (Top Challenger), Chichibu, 12:00

Toyota Verblitz (Top League) v Kobe Steelers (Top League Wildcard), Hanazono, 12:00

 

Second Round

Date: Sunday, 13 February 2011

Venues: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, Tokyo

Winner of Toshiba Brave Lupus (TL) v NEC Green Rockets (TL Wildcard) and Teikyo University (Uni 1) v Tamariva (Club), 14:00

Winner of Waseda University (Uni 2) v NTT Docomo (Top Challenger) and Toyota Verblitz (TL) v Kobe Steelers (TL Wildcard), 12:00

 

Semi-finals

Date: Saturday, 19 February 2011

Venues: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, Tokyo; Kintetsu Hanazono Rugby Ground, Osaka

Sanyo Wild Knights (Top League)

Suntory Sungoliath (Top League)

 

Final

Date: Sunday, 27 February 2011

Venues: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, Tokyo

 

Tokyo Sevens 2011

With a view to promoting and strengthening Sevens ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, an international Rugby Sevens tournament will be held at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo over the weekend of 16-17 April 2011. It is ten years since an international Sevens tournament of this scale has been held in Japan when Japan hosted a leg of the IRB Sevens World Series in 2000 and also 2001. A total of twelve teams will take part in the 2011 tournament including representative sides from host Japan, Australia, China, Fiji, France, South Korea, New Zealand, Samoa, South Africa, Tonga and the USA.

 

 

IRB Junior world Rugby Trophy 2011

The Japan U20 side will take part in the 8-team IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2011 to take place in Georgia from 24 May to 5 June 2011. Japan as the Asian qualifier will be joined by such countries as Uruguay, as the South American representative, Oceania representative Samoa, relegated after the Junior World Championship 2010, African champions Zimbabwe and Georgia as the host nation. Russia will also join the tournament after reaching the final of the FIRA European U19 Championship.

 

This will be the first time for the Georgian Rugby Union to host a major IRB tournament. The eight participating teams will be split across two pools of four teams with double headers at two venues in the capital of Tbilisi on Tuesday 24 May, Saturday 28 May, Wednesday 1 June and Sunday 5 June 2011. The winner of the tournament will be promoted to the IRB Junior World Championship for 2012.

 

The venues, pools and match schedules are set to be confirmed in January 2011.

 

 

HSBC Asian Five Nations 2011

This year, 2011 will be the fourth edition of the HSBC Asian Five Nations tournament with Japan having won the first three events. In the Top Five division for 2011, Japan will be joined by Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Sri Lanka won Division One in 2010 and were promoted to replace relegated Korea while rugby in the Gulf region has been reorganised with The Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union (AGRFU) being disbanded in favour of individual national Unions. The first Union established, the United Arab Emirates Rugby Association (UAERA) will participate in the Top Five in 2011. The tournament will be held on consecutive weekends from 23 April to 21 May 2011.

 

Round

Date

Team

Score

Team

Venue

1

Sat. 23 April 2011

Sri Lanka

-

UAE

Sri Lanka

 

 

Kazakhstan

-

Hong Kong

Kazakhstan

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

Fri. 29 April 2011

UAE

-

Kazakhstan

UAE

 

Sat. 30 April 2011

Hong Kong

-

Japan

Hong Kong

 

 

 

 

 

 

3

Sat. 7 May 2011

Kazakhstan

-

Japan

Bangkok

 

 

Sri Lanka

-

Hong Kong

Sri Lanka

 

 

 

 

 

 

4

Fri. 13 May 2011

UAE

-

Japan

Dubai

 

 

Kazakhstan

-

Sri Lanka

Kazakhstan

 

 

 

 

 

 

5

Sat. 21 May 2011

Japan

-

Sri Lanka

Tokyo

 

 

Hong Kong

-

UAE

Hong Kong

 

 

 

ANZ Pacific Nations Cup 2011

On 6 November 2010, Osamu Ota, the general manager of the Japan national side announced that Japan will host the ANZ Pacific Nations Cup 2011.

 

Full details were released by the IRB on 16 December 2010 with the three rounds involving Fiji, Japan, Samoa and Tonga to be played on Saturday 2, Friday 8 and Wednesday 13 July 2011. All games are to be played as double headers at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo.

 

Round

Date

Team

Score

Team

Kick-off

One

Saturday 2 July 2011

Tonga 

-

Fiji

17:10

 

 

Japan

-

Samoa

19:10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two

Friday 8 July 2011

Tonga

-

Samoa

17:10

 

 

Fiji

-

Japan

19:10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Samoa

-

Fiji

17:10

 

 

Japan

-

Tonga

19:10

 

 

In other news, a 40-man Japan squad will be announced on 28 February and over the course of the HSBC Asian Five Nations, camps in Hokkaido in June and the Pacific Nations Cup in July the squad will be whittled down to thirty for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand over September and October 2011.

 

 

Rugby World Cup Warm-up Tests

Saturday, 13 August 2011, Italy v Japan, Trieste.

Sunday, 21 August 2011, Japan v USA, Tokyo.

 

 

Rugby World Cup 2011

2011 Rugby World Cup , New Zealand

Japan are in Pool A along with hosts New Zealand, France, Tonga and Canada.

 

France v Japan

Date: Saturday, 10 September 2011

Venue: North Harbour Stadium, Auckland

Kick-off: 18:00

 

New Zealand v Japan

Date: Friday, 16 September 2011

Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton

Kick-off: 20:00

 

Tonga v Japan

Date: Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Venue: Northland Events Centre, Whangarei

Kick-off: 19:30

 

Canada v Japan

Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Venue: McLean Park, Napier

Kick-off: 17:00

 

 

Into the Future

With the IRB working towards re-introducing traditional long tours there will be spin-offs for Japan in the lead-up to this country hosting the 2019 RWC. Although it is not set in concrete, a bevy of tier one countries are pencilled in to tour Japan with Wales touring in 2013, Scotland in 2016, Ireland in 2017 and Italy in 2018.