RUGBY JERSEY – Japan Rugby League One 2023-2024 season begins 

Toshiba Brave Lupas vs Shizuoka Blue Revs

(Written by Azul: December 21, 2023)

On December 9, 2023, the new season of Japan’s professional rugby league, League One, began. I visited Tokyo Stadium (Ajinomoto Stadium), the main venue for RWC 2019, to watch the game.

Here are the teams participating in this season’s League One.

First, Division 1

2022-23League One Order (Division 1)
1Saitama Wildnights
2Kubota Spears
3Tokyo Sungoliath
4Yokohama Eagles
5Tokyo Brave Lupas
6Toyota Verblitz
7Shizuoka Blue Revs
8Black Rams Tokyo
9Kobe Steelers
10Sagamihara Dynaboars
12Hanazono Riners
NewMie Honda Heat

Introduced by last season’s standings, the lineup for Division 1 is as shown above. Green Rockets Tokatsu, who finished 11th last season, was relegated to Division 2 after losing in the replacement round, and Mie Honda Heat was promoted from Division 2 to replace them.

Next, let us introduce the participating teams in Division 2.

NewGreen Rockets Tokatsu
1Urayasu D-Rocks
3Toyota Shuttles AICHI
6Kamaishi Seawaves RFC
NewKyushu Denryoku Kyuden Voltecs
NewRed Hurricanes Osaka

Kyuden Voltecs and Red Hurricanes Osaka were promoted from Division 3.

The final five teams in Division 3 are as follows

NewHino Red Dolphins
NewShimizu Kensetsu Koto Blue SHARKS
3Kurita Water Gash Akishima
4Sky Active Hiroshima
5Chugoku Denryoku Red Reglions

The Red Dolphins and Koto Blue Sharks are relegated from Division 2.

The Red Dolphins was relegated due to team misconduct, so for this season only, there will be a three-team changeover in Division 2.

As this is the year of the RWC, each team will be looking to increase their attendance figures in the wake of the fervor of the event. Last season, attendance in Division 1 ranged from 3,000 to 4,000 for each game, excluding playoff games. Each team has a goal of 10,000 spectators per game, but to achieve this goal, the games must be rich in content. This season, League One has 59 players who represented their countries at RWC 2023. Expectations are high for the matches I will be watching today.

Anna Asano, MC of J SPORTS TV, which broadcasts all League One matches, appeared on the field for this match. There was loud cheering from the stands.

It was clear that today’s match was drawing a lot of attention.

Let me introduce the two teams that will be playing today.

First, let me introduce the home team, Toshiba Brave Lupas.

Last season, they finished 5th out of 12 teams, narrowly missing the playoffs. The team’s style is traditionally to break through head-on with force, with a strong front line. This season, New Zealand national team member Richie MOUNGA(SO) and Shannon FRIZELL(FL) have joined the team adding depth to the attack. Today’s starting lineup is as follows.

TOSHIBA Brave Lupas
1Sena KIMURA175cm105kg24 
2Mamoru HARADA175cm101kg24 
3Taufa LATU183cm120kg25 
4Warner Dearns202cm123kg21Japan 11caps
5Jacob Pierce201cm106kg26 
6Shannon Frizell195cm108kg29New Zealand  33caps
7Takeshi SASAKI180cm101kg26 
8Michael Leitch189cm113kg33Japan 72caps
9Yuhei Sugiyama169cm76kg26 
10Richie MO’UNGA176cm83kg29New Zealand  44caps
11Atsuo KUWAYAMA183cm92kg26 
12Taichi MANO173cm87kg26 
13Seta TAMANIVALU189cm112kg30New Zealand  5caps
14Jone Naikabula177cm95kg29Japan 4caps
15Takuro MATSUNAGA172cm82kg25 

** Players to watch **

Richie MOUNGA, 176cm, 83kg, 29 years old, has 44 caps for NZ and was the best SO in the world at RWC 2023, and Japanese fans are lucky to see him in his prime in Japan. In addition to his superior basic skills as a SO, he has the speed and penetration to cut through opposing teams when he sees an opening. This season, Brave Lupas has added a new weapon to their offensive arsenal.

Next, I would like to introduce today’s Visitor Tam, the SHIZUOKA Blue Revs.

Last season, they placed 7th out of 12 teams. The team’s style is to show unparalleled strength in the scrum, the set play of the FW. With their physical strength to run until the end of the game, which is produced by their daily intense practice, they show their strength in the latter half of the game. They are a very troublesome team for opponents. Their team spirit of never giving up until the last minute of the game is what attracts the hearts of their supporters.

Today’s starting lineup is as follows.

Shizuoka Blue Revs
1Kazuhiro KWADA172cm102kg27 
2Takeshi HINO172cm100kg33Japan 5caps
3Heiichiro ITO175cm115kg33 
4Eisin KUWANO193cm112kg29 
5Murray DOUGLAS198cm115kg34 
6Yuya Odo187cm104kg33Japan 5caps
7Takuma SHOJI182cm100kg24 
8Malgene ILAUA187cm107kg30Japan 7cap
9Yuki YATOMI176cm82kg38Japan 16cap
10Kenta IEMURA176cm93kg22 
11Malo TUITAMA182cm91kg27 
12Viliami TAHITUA183cm102kg32Tonga 9cap
13Sylvian MAHUZA179cm82kg30 
14Futo YAMAGUCHI167cm76kg23 
15Charles PIUTAU186cm95kg32NZ17caps, Tonga 1cap

** Players to watch  **

Kenta IEMURA is 176 cm, 93 kg, 22 years old. He is a graduate of Kyoto Sangyo University. He joined the Blue Revs last season and is quickly finding his place in the team. His accurate place kicking, precise decision making, and solid playing style are the main weapons of the Blue Revs. We look forward to seeing if his performance this season can lift the team to the championship contention.

Let the games begin. Kickoff was at 14:35.

2 minutes into the first half:

Brave Lupas attacked deep into the enemy territory, and after a series of attacks on the right edge of the field, Brave Lupas took a big step to the left to create a numerical advantage, and CTB TAMANIVALU scored a try in the left corner of the in-goal. The conversion goal after the try failed, and Brave Lupas took the lead, making the score 5-0.

9 minutes into the first half:

The Blue Revs were held up by their opponents in the early stages of the game, but they showed their solid game with steady set pieces. After a penalty kick for a foul by the opponents, the Blue Revs got a lineout deep in the enemy territory and put together a maul to advance. In the end, ILAUA (No.8) scored a try in front of the enemy’s in-goal. The conversion goal after the try was also successful, and the Blue Revs turned the score to 5-7.

16 minutes into the first half:

In this period, Blue Revs won the ball and attacked continuously with solid connection, not letting go of the ball easily. Then, when they were close to the enemy’s in-goal again, they formed a scrum on their own ball, pushed their opponents forward, and finally, No.8 ILAUA scored his second try of the day. The conversion goal after the try was also successful, and the score was 5-14, Blue Revs leading by 9 points.

21 minutes into the first half:

Brave Lupas again showed aggression, but at the crucial moment, they made a handling error and failed to score.

Blue Revs’ SO IEMURA kicked deep into enemy territory, and Brave Lupas tried to counter-attack, but was denied by a foul in front of their own goal post. The Blue Revs then opted for a PG, which SO IEMURA converted to make the score 5-17.

25 minutes into the first half:

Brave Lupas was a little outclassed, but WTB KUWAYAMA was mesmerizing. In a series of attacks in enemy territory, KUWAYAMA received the ball, broke through the opposing defense, and stepped past the defenders in front of him to score a try to the left. Brave Lupas was able to fight back, scoring 10-17, despite a missed conversion goal.

30 minutes into the first half:

Brave Lupas started their attack from the center of the field, and after a move to the right, the ball was passed to NAIKABURA, the right WTB, who dodged three Blue Revs defenders and scored a try on the right side of the goal post. The conversion goal after the try was also successful, and Brave Lupas tied the score 17-17.

38 minutes into the first half:

The Blue Revs broke out of their own half behind the defense and almost scored a try, but it was blocked three meters in front of the in-goal. Immediately afterwards, the Brave Lupas FWs made a vertical charge through the enemy line and connected with the ball to advance to the in-goal area. From there, Brave Lupas’ BKs moved to the left, creating a numerical advantage, and CTB TAMANIVALU scored the try in the left corner of the in-goal. The conversion goal after the try failed, and the score was 22-17, again with Brave Lupas leading the score.

42 minutes into the first half:

Brave Lupas committed an infringement in their own territory near the end of the first half, and the Blue Revs opted to go for the PG. The Blue Revs chose to go for the PG. The distance was about 50 meters, and there was an angle, but SO IEMURA scored it beautifully to end the first half. The score was 22-20 in favor of Brave Lupas. The two teams were evenly matched, making for a spectacular opening game.

Compared to last season, both teams have grown noticeably, and we can expect a lot of excitement from LEAGUE ONE as a whole this season. Hopefully, we will be able to attract more spectators as befits this heated game. The attendance for the day was 11,553.

Our immediate goal would be to exceed the attendance record immediately after RWC2019.

Let’s start the second half.

2 minutes into the second half:

It was the Blue Revs who scored the first score of the second half. SMITH, the captain of the team, came on at No.8 in the second half, and he ran into a dense crowd and immediately drew a Not Release the Ball foul from the opposing team. The SO IEMURA, who had a 100% goal success rate on the day, successfully converted it into a PG to put the Blue Revs up 22-23.

15 minutes into the second half:

The two sides clashed with each other’s willpower and showed each other’s strengths, making this a very spectacular match. Brave Lupas broke the deadlock after a few minutes of intense play, with Brave Lupas going close in their own box and both teams’ forwards exchanging blows. The SO MOUNGA kicked a pass to the right corner, where WTB NAIKABURA caught it and scored a try in the left corner of the in-goal.

Brave Lupas showed a new attacking pattern that was not seen last season.

The conversion goal after the try was also successful, and the score was 29-23, Brave Lupas was back on top.

18 minutes into the second half:

3 minutes later, Brave Lupas, with momentum on their side, had one of their newest players, flanker FRIZZELL, break through the opposing defense from the center of the field and score a big gain near the in-goal area. FRIZZEL, an active All Blacks player with 33 caps for the New Zealand national team, showed his ability to score tries. The conversion goal after the try was also successful, making the score 36-23.

25 minutes into the second half:

At this point in the game, Brave Lupas was starting to take the lead, but the Blue Revs were not to be outdone, and their fighting spirit was ignited. After entering the enemy camp, the Blue Revs made steady progress, moving left and right, and approached the opponent’s in-goal. The conversion goal after the try was also successful, and the score was 36-30, with the Blue Revs trailing by 6 points.

29 minutes into the second half:

The Blue Revs were up by 6 points at the 29th minute of the second half, but it was Brave Lupas’ WTB NAIKABURA who scored the final try of the game. The ball was received on the right side of the field and rolled behind the defense, where he ran in, picked up the ball, and scored his fourth try of the day in the middle of the opposition’s in-goal, NAIKABURA’s versatility as a WTB and, above all, his decisiveness in scoring tries, have improved dramatically since his full participation in RWC 2023.

The conversion goal after the try was also successful, and the score was 43-30. Despite the loss, the Blue Revs kept the game exciting until the end of the match, and the crowd cheered them on. With a series of games like this, League One could be on par with the best national leagues in the world this season.


Stop the war.

Peace to Ukraine