(Author: Azul, May 28, 2023)
The 2023 Japan Rugby League One season reaches its climax. The play-off schedules are as follows:
13 May Semi-final 1: League 1st vs League 4th
14 May Semi-final 2: League 2nd vs League 3rd
19 May 3rd place play-off: loser of semi-final 1 vs loser of semi-final 2
20 May Final: winner of Semi Final 1 vs winner of Semi Final 2
This time, I watched the matches,
13 May Semi-final 1: Panasonic Wild Knights vs CANON EAGLES
The venue was Chichibunomiya Rugby Ground in Minato Ward, Tokyo, a sacred place for rugby in eastern Japan.
On the day of the match, there was an unfortunate light rain. However, despite the bad weather, there were 16,237 spectators on the day. This shows the high expectations of rugby fans in Japan.
Here is an update on the two teams for the day’s matches.
First up are the Panasonic Wild Knights, who are the 2023 League One 1st placed team. Their record this season was 15 wins－1 lose.
Last season’s League One champions, the Wild Knights head into this season’s play-offs with a second consecutive title on the line. Their only loss this season came against the Shizuoka Blue Revs on 15 Apr by a score of 25-44. The Blue Revs and Wild Knights matches are often close, but by the end the Blue Revs had the advantage in the scrums. It will be interesting to see how far Wild Knights can learn from that defeat and show their ability in this semi-final.
The starting line-up for today’s Wild Knights is as follows.
|Panasonic Wild Nights|
|1||Keita Inagaki||186cm||116kg||31||Japan 44cap|
|2||Atsushi Sakade||180cm||104kg||28||Japan 32cap|
|3||Asaeri Ai VALU||187cm||115kg||29||Japan 23cap|
|4||Mark ABBOTT||197cm||112kg||32||NZ 14cap|
|5||Lood De JAGER||206cm||127kg||30||Soth Africa 65cap|
|8||Jack CORNELSEN||195cm||110kg||28||Japan 11cap|
|9||Keisuke UCHIDA||179cm||86kg||30||Japan 22cap|
|10||Rikiya Matsuda||181cm||92kg||28||Japan 29cap|
|11||Marika KOROIBETE||182cm||96kg||30||Australia 51cap|
|12||Damian De ALLENDE||190cm||105kg||31||Soth Africa 68cap|
|13||Dylan RILEY||187cm||102kg||25||Japan 9cap|
|15||Ryuji Noguchi||177cm||83kg||27||Japan 14cap|
** Player to watch **
Ryuji NOGUCHI. 177 cm, 83 kg, 27 years old. Position = FB, WTB. from Tokai University. Japan national team Cap = 14. As a FB, he has the overall ability to be No.1 in Japan when it comes to dealing with the opposing team’s kicks, his unmatched accuracy, his situational judgement and his top speed. The only thing missing is that his physique is a little inferior to that of FBs from strong foreign countries. However, there are FBs under 180 cm in other countries in Tier 1, so there is a possibility that he will be selected for the Japanese squad for the RWC 2023.
By the way, I would like to introduce the CANON Eagles, who will play against the Wild Knights.
The Eagles finished fourth in League One this season (10 wins, 4 losses and 2 draws) and, for the first time since their inception, have reached the play-offs. Under the guidance of renowned coach Sawaki, the EAGLES have steadily improved their ability every year. This season, the team’s squad was further strengthened by the addition of world-class SH De KLERK from the South African national team. In this season’s matches against WildKnights.
1/28: lost 19-21.
5/13: lost 51-20.
The EAGLES have yet to win against the WildKnights, but you never know until you try.
The EAGLES starting line-up for the day is as follows.
|2||Yusuke Niwai||174cm||95kg||31||Japan 10cap|
|6||Kobus Van DYK||196cm||108kg||28|
|9||Faf DEKLARK||172cm||88kg||31||South Africa 44cap|
|10||Yu Tamura||181cm||92kg||34||Japan 70cap|
|11||Chihito MATSUI||183cm||88kg||28||Japan 2cap|
|13||Jesse Kriel||185cm||95kg||29||South Africa 58cap|
|15||Jumpei OGURA||172cm||80kg||30||Japan 4cap|
** Player to watch **
Inoke BURUA. 178 cm, 95 kg, 23 years old. Position = WTB. born in Fiji. He combines Fijian-specific outstanding speed with strong physicality. He has been a regular member of the Eagles since joining the club, scoring tries on a regular basis. He excels in attack, but also shows strength in defence.
Now, let the game begin.
Kick-off in light rain. As the match was played in the rain, both teams tried to use kicks to gain positional advantage over each other. Early in the start, Wild Knights prop VALU made an illegal tackle and was temporarily sent off. This seemed to give the EAGLES the advantage, but it was Wild Knights who took the game to the opposition in the early stages.
14 minutes into the first half:
After an early kicking duel, the Wild Knights were aggressive in their own half, looking to push forward. They created several try-scoring opportunities, but ultimately failed to score.
The Eagles, on the other hand, made a quick move into enemy territory and, after a penalty kick following an infringement by their opponents, made a quick move forward to near the enemy in-goal. This was once again blocked by the Wild Knights, but a foul on this occasion allowed the EAGLES to maul their way through a lineout and score a try on the left side of the enemy in-goal. The try was scored by EAGLES No. 8 HARASILI.
The conversion goal after the try was also successful and the score was 0-7 to the EAGLES.
18 minutes into the first half:
Wild Knights kicked off after a try had been scored, and after entering enemy territory, the EAGLES committed a collapsing infringement in a scrum on their own ball, so they opted for a penalty kick. This was scored by SO MATSUDA to make the score 3-7.
20 minutes of the second half:
From the restart kick-off, the EAGLES made a series of attacks in enemy territory. A Wild Knights infringement in front of the opposition in-goal allowed the Eagles to get going and a long pass from SH DEKLARK to WTB BURUA, who was waiting in the right hand corner, led to BURUA scoring a try in the middle of the right flank. The conversion goal after the try was also successful, making the score 3-14.
23rd and 29th minutes of the first half:
The Wild Knights were unable to score a try, but they did force an infringement deep in enemy territory, giving them the chance to take a penalty kick, which SO MATSUDA converted with two successful strikes. The score was 9-14 to the EAGLES.
35 minutes of the first half:
The Wild Knights again went close to the opposition’s in-goal in this period, with a series of attacks. Several try opportunities were created, but the EAGLES’ defender was at every turn to deny them. However, a series of attacks saw the ball go to SO MATSUDA, who was close to the front of the goal posts, where he quickly scored a drop goal. The crowd in the stands cheered loudly for this lightning-fast move. The score was 12-14.
(SO MATSUDA’s DG was so quick that I could not get a photo in time. Shame.)
38 minutes of the first half:
The Eagles attacked in the opposition territory, and the Wild Knights kicked an in-goal drop-out from their own half, and SO TAMURA of the Eagles received the ball near the half-way line, and from that position scored a drop goal from an estimated 45 metres. The score was 12-17. I had never seen a game where both teams exchanged drop goals before. I was happy to be able to watch such a match. Maybe DG will be Japan’s secret weapon at RWC 2023.
42 minutes of the first half:
Towards the end of the first half, the Wild Nights were awarded a penalty kick after SO TAMURA of the EAGLES made a dangerous tackle on SO MATSUDA of the Wild Nights during a series of attacks by the Wild Nights in enemy territory. Wild Nights’ SO MATSUDA steadily took it, making the score 15-17.
Note that EAGLES’ SO TAMURA was temporarily sent off for 10 minutes from the start of the second half for this foul.
The first half ended with this score, with the EAGLES leading by two points at the break. However, the EAGLES will be without their commanding SO TAMURA for the first 10 minutes of the second half, and the focus of the second half will be on how far the EAGLES can stick it out.
Let’s get the second half underway.
2 minutes into the second half:
The EAGLES kicked off to start the game, and Wild Nights catched the ball from the kick off and launched a series of attacks, once kicking the ball into enemy territory, they won it again. As expected, Wild Nights started the second half with everyone stepping up a gear and not losing the ball as often.
Wild Nights used the ground wide and deployed the ball, with CTB RILEY cutting inside and coming close to the opposition’s goal posts. From the resulting tight pack, WTB KOLOIBETE sidestepped and scored a try almost directly behind the goal posts.
The conversion goal after the try was also successful, making the score 22-17. Early in the second half, Wild Nights took the lead for the first time in the match.
11 minutes into the second half:
EAGLES could not let Wild Nights pull away and went on the offensive. They pushed deep into enemy territory and a move to the right saw WTB BURUA, who was on the outside, close in on the opposition in-goal, only to be pushed off his line by the Wild Nights defenders. However, Wild Nights were then fouled for offside, whereupon EAGLES opted for a penalty goal, which was scored by FB OGURA, making the score 22-20.
13 minutes into the second half:
The score was close at two points apiece, but gradually the Wild Nights began to push forward on the offensive. After a kicking duel to take possession, Wild Nights FB NOGUCHI jumped on a high ball kicked by his own team and successfully re-captured it, from where Wild Nights connected with the ball and finally WTB KOLOIBETE, running in from behind at full speed, crossed the line from behind to score behind the enemy He ran in behind the in-goal posts to score a try. The conversion goal after the try was also successful, making the score 29-20.
17 minutes of the second half:
During this period, both teams kicked each other and tried to put the game in their own favour, but the individual skills of Wild Nights’ FB Noguchi allowed the Wild Nights to attack in rapid succession, always in the opposition’s half. Finally, Wild Nights CTB RILEY broke through the EAGLES’ defense before the goal post and scored a try in the middle on the left of the in-goal area. The conversion goal after the try was also successful and the score, 36-20.
30 minutes into the second half:
Wild Nights were fouled by EAGLES in a scrum set up slightly to the right near the enemy 10m line and opted for a penalty kick in this position. This was scored by Wild Nights’ SO MATSUDA, making the score 39-20.
31 minutes into the second half:
The EAGLES were getting a little tired and in enemy territory when the Wild Nights attacked, the initial response of the defense was delayed and when the ball was passed to WTB KOLOIBETE, who was on the left edge of the Wild Nights attack, no one on the defense was on hand. As it was, KOLOIBETE ran all the way to the enemy in-goal to score his third try of the day. The conversion goal after the try failed and the score was 44-20.
36 minutes of the second half:
In the closing minutes, the Wild Nights are still on the attack. They were closing in on the opposition’s in-goal, and after winning the ball from a lineout on the left, they moved forward in a maul and Wild Nights hooker HORIE, who was controlling the maul from the back row, scored a try in the left corner of the in-goal. The conversion goal after the try was also successful, making the score 51-20.
The game ended with the score 51-20, with Wild Nights winning the match and progressing to the play-off final on 20 May, and the Eagles losing the match and moving on to the third-place play-off on 19 May. Will Wild Nights be able to win back-to-back League One titles? And can the EAGLES win their final game of the season?
Stop the war.
Peace to Ukraine