(Author: Azul, April 30, 2022)
This time (April 23, 2022), I went to Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, to watch the match between Yokohama Eagles and Saitama Wild Knights.
Nissan Stadium refers to the Yokohama International Stadium; during RWC2019, we were not allowed to use the company name. In RWC2019, big matches such as finals and semi-finals were held.
It was only 3 years ago, but it seems like a lot of time has passed, perhaps because of the outbreak of the new Corona and the Ukrainian crisis during this time. I took it for granted that sports are a festival of peace, but it takes a lot of effort from people all over the world to hold such a festival.
Stop the war.
Peace to Ukraine
It has been a long time since I visited Nissan Stadium for a League One match, and I felt very nostalgic.
The photo above is a view of the city from Shin-Yokohama station. It was the first sunny day in a long time and the temperature reached 27 degrees Celsius. It was already early summer.
The venue for the match was a large venue with a capacity of over 70,000 people, so there were many spectators.
The Nissan Stadium is a very prestigious stadium. It reminds me of the many great games that have taken place in the past and makes me feel that I have come to the place of decisive battles.
Personally, I would like to see more matches played at Tokyo Stadium and Nissan Stadium, which were the venue for RWC 2019. I would like to see more matches played there, but due to the new corona infection, we have not yet been able to bring back the crowds.
The attendance that day was 8,299, which was a bit sad because the stadium has a capacity of over 70,000 people, so the empty seats were noticeable. Considering that League One averages about 3,000 spectators per game, however, today’s game was a fairly healthy showing.
Let’s check the League One standings before the match.
|4||Tokyo Brave Lupas||9||5||0||44|
|8||Shizuoka Blue Revs||4||9||0||20|
|9||Black Rams Tokyo||3||10||0||16|
|10||Red Hurricanes Osaka||3||11||0||14||-248|
|11||Shining Arks Tokyo Bay||3||10||0||14||-187|
|12||Green Rockets Tokatsu||2||11||0||13|
The top three teams are almost guaranteed a spot in the final tournament, but the race for the remaining team is very tight. The three teams currently in fourth through sixth place are vying for tournament qualification. The standings are changing every week. Which team will win the final four places among Brave Lupus Tokyo, Yokohama Eagles, and TOYOTA Verblitz? The final match will be held on May 8.
Now, let me introduce the teams for today’s game.
The host team this time is Yokohama Canon Eagles. They are currently ranked 5th in Division 1 of League One. Their parent company, Canon, is a large global camera manufacturer. The team was ranked low in the Top League in its early years, but has been working to strengthen its team by bringing in a famous coach, Sawaki.
The gap in power with the top teams has been narrowing with each match. In particular, last season’s Top League champion, the Wild Knights, whom they face this day, beat them in their first game last year by a huge margin of 0-47, and also by a complete loss. However, in the playoffs that year, they closed the gap to 17-32, and in this season’s matchup, the score was 3-27. In all of their games, they have lost to the Wild Knights, but in terms of content, they have gradually improved. Can the Eagles make up for it in this day’s match?
The starting lineup for today’s game is as follows
|2||Yusuke Niwai||174cm||95kg||30||Japan 10cap|
|5||Cory Hill||196cm||117kg||30||Wales 32cap|
|6||Kobas van Dyk||196cm||108kg||27|
|8||Amanaki Lelei Mafi||189cm||112kg||32||Japan 29cap|
|10||Yu Tamura||181cm||92kg||33||Japan 68cap|
|11||Chihito Matsui||183cm||88kg||27||Japan 2cap|
|12||Yusuke Kajimura||181cm||95kg||26||Japan 1cap|
|13||Jesse Kriel||185cm||95kg||28||South Africa 51cap|
＊＊ Players to watch ＊＊
S.P. Murays. 185 cm, 94 kg, 33 years old. From South Africa. Position = FB. He joined the Eagles in 2020 after playing for the SHARKS of SUPER RUGBY. One of the best offensive players in League One, he is a stalwart FB for the Eagles and is a key member of the defense at the back of the line. He will also play placekicker in this match.
Next, let us introduce the visiting team, the Saitama Wild Knights. Last season’s Top League champions. A strong team that competes for the championship every year. Most of the players on this year’s starting lineup have experience as representatives of their home country. This season, they have two losses, but in fact, they are the only undefeated team in League One because they lost a game due to a new corona infection. Their head coach is world-renowned general Robert Deans, and all eyes will be on this season to see which team can stop the Wild Knights’ winning streak. The Eagles are one of the candidates.
Today’s Wild Knights starting lineup is as follows
|Saitama Wild Nights|
|1||Keita Inagaki||186cm||116kg||31||Japan 39cap|
|2||Atsushi Sakade||180cm||104kg||28||Japan 27cap|
|5||George Kruis||198cm||123kg||32||England 45cap|
|8||Jack Cornelsen||195cm||110kg||27||Japan 6cap|
|9||Keisuke Uchida||179cm||86kg||30||Japan 22cap|
|10||Rikiya Matsuda||181cm||92kg||27||Japan 29cap|
|11||Marika Koroibete||182cm||96kg||29||Australia 42cap|
|12||Hadleigh Parkes||187cm||107kg||34||Wales 29cap|
|13||Dylan Riley||187cm||102kg||24||Japan 4cap|
|15||Ryuji Noguchi||177cm||83kg||26||Japan 13cap|
＊＊ Players to watch ＊＊
Ryuji Noguchi. 177 cm, 83 kg, 26 years old. until just before the RWC 2019, he was a member of the Japan national team. I believe his qualities as a FB, positioning, accurate kicking, and ability to sense danger are No. 1 in Japan. The only thing he lacks is his physique.Compared to the rest of the world, he is a little short in height and weight.
Let’s see how the match went.
9 minutes into the first half:
The Eagles must have had several plans of attack for this match, but they scored the first goal.
The Eagles kicked off the game. The Eagles made steady progress with a series of attacks after entering enemy territory, and then, after an infringement by the opponent, formed a lineout in front of the enemy goal to secure possession. From there, the Eagles attacked in a maul, which has been their scoring pattern this season, and swept into the enemy in-goal, where hooker Niwai held up the ball for the first try.
The Eagles took the lead with a conversion goal by FB Murays to make the score 7-0.
9 minutes into the first half:
The Wild Knights were expected to counterattack, but the Eagles took advantage of a mistake by their opponents and took the ball on a series of attacks. Flanker van Dyk and WTB Matsui broke down the left flank of the enemy line and scored a try in the left corner. A difficult finish from the left corner by Eagles FB Marais gave the Eagles a big 14-0 lead.
The spirit of the Eagles up to this point was so great that minor mistakes on the part of the Wild Knights were noticeable. The Eagles also made full use of various BK sign plays in the first half.
20 minutes into the first half:
The Wild Knights were able to get into the enemy territory a little bit and drew a foul on the opposing team, where they opted to go for the PG. The Wild Knights’ SO Matsuda succeeded the PG to make the score 14-3.
After this, the game went on without either team scoring. However, it was a good game with a lot of highlights.
37 minutes into the first half
With neither team scoring, the Eagles were able to score after a foul on their opponents in front of the goal in enemy territory. This was scored by Eagles FB Marais, making the score 17-3 and giving the Eagles a 14-point lead.
The first half ended with the score remaining unchanged. The Eagles were able to keep their good flow going, thanks to steady defense and placekicks by FB Marais.
At this point, it became halftime.
A look back at the Eagles’ attack in the first half.
In the previous match, the FW third row, led by Mafi, tried to break hard individually, which was a mistake at every turn. In this match, the team was aware of the need to work together with nearby players to make a breakthrough.
In the backs, they played the game with the mindset of using short passes and passing before making contact to gain an advantage in terms of number of players and then deploying.
However, it was a hot day. In the direct sunlight inside the stadium, the temperature was over 30 degrees Celsius.
Then came the start of the second half. How would the champion Wild Knights roll back from this point?
6 minutes into the second half
The two teams went back and forth on offense and defense. The Wild Knights brought the ball in and the Eagles got it back, and then the Wild Knights got it back in the ensuing densely packed battle. Unable to find a way through, the Wild Knights opted for a PG on the penalty kick they got here. SO Matsuda succeeded, making the score 17-6. The Wild Knights were now up by 11 points.
The Wild Knights made all three changes in the first row of the FW. All three were strong and all represented Japan. This depth of players is one of the strengths of the Wild Knights.
7 minutes into the second half
SO Matsuda of the Wild Knights raises a high punt from his own line. Just before an Eagles player was about to catch it, Wild Knights FB Noguchi came around and made the catch. Noguchi succeeded offroad pass to WTB Koloibete before being tackled. Koloibete continued to show his speed and ran over 40 meters to score a try in the left corner. The conversion goal after the try failed. The Wild Knights were now within 6 points of the score, 17-11.
12 minutes into the second half:
The Wild Knights slowly began to take control of the game. The gathering and dispersal of each player became noticeably quicker, and with it, the Eagles began to make frequent mistakes. From their own territory, the Wild Knights attacked the enemy territory with a series of attacks, which led to a foul by the Eagles in front of the goalposts in the enemy territory. The Wild Knights chose to go for the PG instead of forcing a try. The Wild Knights’ SO Matsuda was steadily successful, bringing the score to within three points, 17-14.
15 minutes into the second half :
The Wild Knights’ set plays began to stabilize and the Eagles’ defenders began to noticeably break down. The Wild Knights’ No. 8 Kornersen easily broke through the side of a tight pack that the Eagles had never been able to get past in the first half, allowing Kornersen to run solo for over 40 meters. Kornersen was able to get close to the goal line, but the Eagles managed to hold on. However, the Eagles were quickly pushed over in the ensuing scrum, resulting in a turnover by the Wild Knights. The Eagles allowed CTB Riley of the Wild Knights to break through the middle and score a try. The Wild Knights succeeded the conversion goal after the try to make the score 17-21. The Wild Knights scored 18 points in just 16 minutes from the start of the second half.
Watching from the stands, I felt the last 16 minutes of the second half was like watching magic. The Wild Knights always attack in the second half, but I did not expect the Eagles, who were so dominant in the first half, to be crushed by the Wild Knights in a one-sided affair. For Eagles supporters, this was a nightmare.
29 minutes into the second half :
The Eagles became inconsistent at set pieces after Japan hooker Niwai was injured in the 14th minute of the second half. They were pushed in scrums, and in lineouts, the ball was being steeled.
The Wild Knights went into the enemy territory, and from a penalty kick, they secured the ball in a lineout on their own ball, then moved forward steadily in a maul. Hooker Sakate scored a try at the left corner of the goal line, and succeeded in scoring the conversion goal after the try. The score was 27-16, and the Wild Knights took a 9-point lead.
39 minutes into the second half:
Toward the end of the game, the Eagles repeated a series of attacks to get within 7 points, the requirement for 1 winning point. They deployed to the backs and tried to advance, but the ball was dropped. It was kicked in by Wild Knights FB Noguchi and the Eagles were forced to fall back. The Wild Knights FB Noguchi caught the ball and passed off-load to CTB Ryley who followed up on the ball in front of the goal line. Ryley then scored a try just below the goal post. And the Wild Nights succeeded the conversion goal to make the score 17-33 in favor of the Wild Knights.
42 minutes into the second half:
After the horn sounded for the last play, the Eagles continued to attack. Flanker Harasiri of the Eagles scored a try in the right corner. The Eagles converted the goal and the final score was 24-33. Eagles FB Malays had a 100% success rate for placekicks on the day.
At the end of the day’s matches, the Saitama Wild Knights were in third place and had clinched a spot in the playoffs. The Yokohama Eagles, on the other hand, dropped to 5th place and will play their remaining two games for a chance to advance to the playoffs.