RUGBY JERSEY -2022-23 League One Division One Play-off Final: Panasonic Saitama Wild Knightsvs KUBOTA SPEARS

(Written by AZUL: June 11, 2023)

The play-off final to conclude this season’s Japan Rugby League One took place on 20 May 2023 at the National Stadium in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Pictured above is the League One championship cup. The person holding it was the TV personality Sho Sakurai.

According to the weather forecast, this year’s Kanto region was close to the start of the rainy season, and the weather was delicate, with rain likely to fall on this day. However, as might be expected from a final match, the event attracted a large number of spectators.

The total number of spectators on the day was 41,794, about 8,000 more than last year’s final. I think the increase in spectators was partly due to the reduced impact of the new corona outbreak. As expected, the attendance did not match the Japan vs NZ match last summer(64,000). This year, RWC 2023 will take place and I hope that the domestic training matches next month will be more exciting.

The schedule for the national team’s training matches just before RWC 2023 is as follows:

8 Jul vs All Blacks XV – match 1: Tokyo

15 Jul vs All Blacks XV – match 2: Kumamoto

22 July vs SAMOA: Sapporo

29 Jul vs TONGA: Osaka

5 Aug vs FIJI: Tokyo

The two teams that made it to the prestigious finals were,

Panasonic Wild Nights and Kubota Spears.

The two teams that made it to the prestigious finals were,

Panasonic Wild Nights and Kubota Spears.

Wild Nights are aiming to win the championship for the third season in a row, while their opponents, Spears, are aiming for their first championship.

Let me introduce both teams.

First, let me introduce the current champions, Panasonic Wild Nights.

The club was founded in 1960. This prestigious team has won the Japanese Rugby Championship six times. The Wild Nights’ winning pattern is to let their opponents attack in the first half but keep up with them, and then in the second half, they quickly fold up to win the game in reverse order. The team as a whole shows their high overall strength with a well-coordinated defence and attack. Will the team’s iron-clad defence also show in this match that they can capitalise on their opponents’ tiredness and mistakes to score points? And can today’s final opponents, Spears, prevent Wild Nights from winning again?

This day’s Wild Nights starting line-up was as follows.

Panasonic Wild Nights
1Keita Inagaki186cm116kg31Japan 44cap
2Atsushi Sakade180cm104kg28Japan 32cap
3Asaeri Ai VALU187cm115kg29Japan 23cap
4Mark ABBOTT197cm112kg32NZ 14cap
5Lood De JAGER206cm127kg30Soth Africa 65cap
6Shota FUKUI186cm101kg23Japan
7Lachlan BOSHIER191cm104kg27 
8Jack CORNELSEN195cm110kg28Japan 11cap
9Keisuke UCHIDA179cm86kg30Japan 22cap
10Rikiya Matsuda181cm92kg28Japan 29cap
11Marika KOROIBETE182cm96kg30Australia 51cap
12Damian De ALLENDE190cm105kg31Soth Africa 68cap
13Dylan RILEY187cm102kg25Japan 9cap
14Tomoki OSADA179cm90kg23 
15Ryuji Noguchi177cm83kg27Japan 14cap

** Player to watch **.

Shota FUKUI. 186 cm, 101 kg. 23 years old. Position = Flanker. Japan national team candidate. A graduate of Higashi Fukuoka High School. At 23 years of age, he is a regular in the Wild Nights team, which features players representing many countries. A fighter who is never afraid to face any opponent, and his excellent reading of the game ensures that he is involved at key points in attack and defence. He is expected to be a key player for Japan at the upcoming RWC 2023.

Next, I introduce KUBOTA SPEARS, who were fired up after their first appearance in the finals.

KUBOTA SPEARS was founded in 1980. Since the Top League was first established, the team was in the bottom half of the league and was once relegated to a lower league before crawling back up and making a breakthrough around 2020. Regular players boast the league’s No. 1 size and physical strength, and are always dominant at set pieces. The team shows particular strength in the battle for the ball by the FWs. In the season’s match against Wild Nights, they were defeated 15-30. In previous matches, Spears had a very poor record against Wild Nights, winning 4- losing 18. Can Spears make new history in Japanese rugby in this final?

Today’s starting line-up was as follows.

1Yota KAMIMORI172cm105kg28 
2Malkolm Marx189cm117kg28South Africa 57cap
3Kengo KITAGAWA178cm110kg30Japan 3cap
4Yuki AOKI188cm105kg30 
5Ruan BOTHA205cm120kg30 
6Finau TUPA190cm115kg33 
7Takeo SUENAGA178cm98kg28 
8Faulua Makisi187cm112kg25Japan 5cap
9Kazuhiro TANIGUCHI164cm73kg27 
10Bernard Foley182cm89kg33Australia 75cap
11Haruto KIDA176cm90kg23 
12Harumichi TATEKAWA180cm93kg33Japan 56cap
13Ryan CROTTY181cm94kg34New Zealand 48cap
14Koga Nezuka173cm82kg24Japan 1cap
15Gerhard Van Den Heever192cm102kg33Japan 5cap

** Player to watch **.

Harumichi TAYEKAWA. 180 cm, 93 kg. 33 years old. Position = CTB, SO. national team cap = 56. from Tenri University. Captain of KUBOTA SPEARS. A key player in Japan’s breakthrough RWC 2015. Apart from the Japan national team, he also played many matches for SUPER RUGBY. He was unable to win a championship with his previous teams, but in his seventh year as captain of KUBOTA, he was aiming to win the championship on this final stage. His style of play shows a risk-taking and physicality in attack and defence. He also possesses the same wide vision and precise passing and kicking skills as he showed at RWC 2015.

Let’s get the match underway.

First 11 minutes of the first half:

The game was played in a solid manner as both teams were keen to win. A stalemate ensued as both sides fought for the ball in a densely contested battle, with the forces being so close that SPEARS won the ball back from their opponents in a densely contested battle, only for Wild Nights to win it back two minutes later.

The Wild Nights pushed forward into enemy territory, close to the in-goal, where the SPEARS defence held firm and they were unable to score a try. They were then pushed back to around the 10m line of enemy area, where SPEARS were infringed. Here, Wild Nights had the right of the PG and SO MATSUDA was in a relatively comfortable position but failed.

20 minutes into the first half:

SPEARS entered enemy territory in a densely contested battle, where Wild Nights committed a Not Role Away infringement. Here, SPEARS opted for a PG, which SO FOLEY converted to make the score 0-3. The first score was done by SPEARS.

26 minutes into the first half:

The game had developed to this point and SPEARS had a slight advantage in the scrum and lineout of the set-pieces: even when Wild Nights kicked off and pushed deep into enemy territory, they were unable to secure their own ball in the scrum and lineout there. As a result, they were pushed back into their own territory, from where SPEARS made a series of attacks to push forward and close in on the enemy’s in-goal. This time Wild Nights were fouled for offside and SPEARS opted for a PG. As it was only about 10 metres from the front of goal, SO FOLEY successfully converted the PG and the score was 0-6.

34 minutes of the first half:

Wild Nights counter-attacked from their own half, and with an extra man on the left flank, a pass to their trump card WTB KOLOIBETE was knocked on, an uncharacteristic Wild Nights infringement and an opportunity squandered.

However, FB NOGUCHI then kicked the ball back into his own half and committed an infringement when his opponent contested the ball. Here, Wild Nights opted for a PG, which SO MATSUDA converted to make the score 3-6.

38 minutes into the first half:

Shortly after the kick-off at the end of the first half, Wild Nights committed a painful infringement deep in their own half. It was 15 metres in front of the goal post. Here, SPEARS opted for a PG and SO FOLEY was solidly successful, making the score 3-9.

With this score, the first half came to an end. In this match, Wild Nights’ minor errors in the deciding moments were noticeable. It was a slightly worrying sign.

Now for the start of the second half.

6 minutes into the second half:

While the game was going on in the Wild Nights camp, a Wild Nights player committed an offside infringement. In this position, about 20 metres from the front of the goal posts, SPEARS opted for a PG. The penalty kick was taken by SPEARS’ SO FOLEY, making the score 3-12. The first goal of the second half was scored by SPEARS.

18 minutes into the second half:

Wild Nights, as usual, went on the offensive around this time and SPEARS were repeatedly fouled after getting into their own half and were then forced into a series of infringements, right up to the 22m line. Here, Wild Nights secured the ball from a lineout on their own ball, and then tried to push forward in a maul. The maul continued for nearly 10 meters and Wild Nights scored a try in the middle left of the enemy’s in-goal. The scorer was hooker HORIE, who came on as a substitute. It was the first try scored by either team in the match.

The converted goal after the try was also successful and the score was 10-12.

25 minutes of the second half:

During this period, Wild Nights showed a great concentration throughout the team to connect with the ball. The attacking period continued, putting pressure on the opposition and closing in on the in-goal. The Wild Nights then moved to the right and the ball was passed to WTB OSADA who was positioned on the right line. OSADA moved forward and cut in to score a try right in the in-goal, passing three SPEARS defenders. The crowd erupted into the biggest cheer of the day. A converted goal after the try failed, but the score was 15-12 to Wild Nights.

29 minutes into the second half:

The stadium was buzzing in the aftermath of the Wild Nights try earlier, but this time, the crowds were mesmerised by SPEARS.

SPEARS kicked off into enemy territory, and a high punt was kicked back to WTB NEZUKA, who successfully re-captured it. From here, SPEARS moved to the left, CTB TATEKAWA kicked a pass and WTB KIDA, who was unmarked at the time, caught the ball and went on to score a try in the middle left.

The conversion goal after the try failed and the score was 15-17.

With about 10 minutes to go, the score difference was only 2 points, and Wild Nights would have to score another PG in enemy territory to regain the lead. In other words, SPEARS could not commit any infringements in their own half. The remainder of the half was very tense.

35 minutes of the second half:

Wild Nights advance to the enemy 22m line, and then turn to the right, where a pass from WTB KOLOIBETE fails to get across to FB NOGUCHI, who is positioned on the outside, and goes off the touchline.

As the game approached the final stages, SPEARS stopped trying to force the ball and concentrated on blocking their opponents’ advances.

SPEARS continued to hold onto the ball and the game came to an end. The final score was 15-17.

KUBOTA SPEARS finally won the championship for the first time since the club was founded in 1980. They have added a new page to the history of Japanese rugby. Congratulations to the KUBOTA SPEARS.

And KUBOTA’s CTB TATEKAWA was named man of the match on the day. His kick-pass leading to the final try was the highlight of the match.

The season has come to an end with this match, but RWC 2023 awaits in the autumn. We look forward to more success from Japan’s national team players.


Stop the war.

Peace to Ukraine