RUGBY JERSEY – League One Playoffs and Replacement Round Outlook

 (Written by Azul: May 17, 2024)

The Japan Rugby League One has finished its regular season games and entered the post-season from May 18.

Each team will play two more games to win the league championship, remain in Division One, or be promoted to the next level.

The scheduled matches are as follows

League One Division 1 playoffs:

5/18 – Semifinal 1: PanasonicWild Knights vs Canon Eagles

5/19 – Semifinal 2: Toshiba Brave Lupas vs Suntory Sungoliath

(Venue for both Semifinals 1 and 2 will be Chichibunomiya Rugby Ground, Tokyo)


5/25 – 3rd place match (Venue: Chichibunomiya Rugby Ground)

5/26 – Final match (Venue: National Stadium)

The matches will be played on the above schedule.

My predictions for the two semifinal matches are as follows

** Semifinal Game 1: Wild Knights vs Canon Eagles**.

Wild Knights’ dominance is unassailable. They have played two games during the season and the results are,

December 10, 2023: Wild Knights 53-Eagles 12 

May 4, 2024: Eagles 14- Wild Knights 43

The Wild Knights won all of these games. In addition,

The Eagles have never defeated the Wild Knights, dating back to the Top League era, and are currently on a 15-game losing streak.

However, the Eagles players know they are at a disadvantage and are ready to challenge the Wild Knights, and Eagles HC Sawaki will be showing some special plays for this match.

Will the Eagles be able to create a stir, or will the Wild Knights have a solid showing and make it to the finals again this year?


** Semifinal Game 2: TOSHIBA Brave Lupas vs SUNTORY Sungoliath **

In the semifinals of the playoffs, another Fuchu derby was played. Since there are two strong teams in the same district, these two teams often meet at league milestones.

The results of this season’s matchups wee as follows

December 17, 2023: SUNTORY 19-TOSHIBA 26

April 27, 2024: TOSHIBA 36-SUNTORY 27

In both games, TOSHIBA Brave Lupas won, but the content was close.

Frankly, the second semifinal match could have gone either way; Sungoliath has a strong group of players, and they have yet to show their strength to this point. I feel that they are hiding their tactics for the playoffs.

However, Brave Lupas, with Riccie M’OUNGA, the best SO in the world, is getting stronger with each game this season.

We are looking forward to seeing how the serious Sungoliath team and the Brave Lupas team, which is in great form, will battle.

By the way, here are the prospects for the replacement matches.

The matchups for this season’s replacement round are as follows.

  • RICOH Black Rams vs NEC Green Rockets
  • HONDA Heat vs Shuttles AICHI
  • KINTETSU Riners vs URAYASU D-Rocks

The winner will be decided by playing two games at Home & AWAY.

The replacement matches will be as follows

1) Division 1 10th vs Division 2 3rd

2) Division 1 11th vs Division 2 2nd

3) Division 1 12th vs Division 2 1st

The 10th-ranked team in Division 1 (= Black Rams) and the 1st-ranked team in Division 2 (= Urayasu D-Rocks) seem to have the advantage, but in the past, there have been many cases of upset in the replacement rounds.

  • RICOH Black Rams vs NEC Green Rockets

The Green Rockets have played in the replacement round every year since becoming a League One team. Last season, many players were in tears after losing. They will be looking forward to the matchup with the Black Rams.

On the other hand, the Black Rams have few players who have experienced a relegation match, so the important thing for them is the mental aspect of the match.

If the Black Rams can show their usual ability, they can be expected to win the match.

  • HONDA Heat vs Shuttles AICHI

Both teams have experienced the replacement round last season, and in the case of HONDA Heat, their powerful FW was also effective in Division 1. In a head-to-head matchup, the Shuttles would have the edge over the Heat because their FW is a step stronger than any of the teams they have played in Division 2.

However, the Shuttles should have a special play like the one they showed in the elimination match, so the match will be interesting to see how far they can go.

  • KINTETSU Riners vs URAYASU D-Rocks

D-Rocks came into this matchup as the top-ranked team in Division 2 last season, but lost to the Riners, the lowest-ranked team in Division 1, after losing all of their matches. For the D-Rocks, this was a reminder of how high the barriers are in Division 1.

In a sense, the D-Rocks may have an easier time in this year’s replacement round because they are playing against the same opponents.

However, the Riners, who were almost completely outclassed in Division 1 this season, have continued to put up a good fight this season and have managed to pick up winning points in several Division 1 matches, showing a clear improvement in their abilities.

We expect them to play the most exciting games among the three replacement matches.


Stop the war.

Peace to Ukraine


RUGBY JERSEY – League One Section 15 – Toshiba Brave Lupas vs Suntory Sungoliath

 (Written by Azul: May 13, 2024)

I went to Chichibunomiya Rugby Ground in Minato-ku, Tokyo on Saturday, April 27 to watch the Japan Rugby League One Section 15 match between Brave Lupas and Sungoliath. The match between Brave Lupas and Sungoliath is called the Fuchu Derby because both teams are based in Fuchu City, Tokyo. Both teams have won championships in the past, and both have qualified for the playoffs this season.

There is a possibility that they will meet in the semifinals of the playoffs on May 18 and 19, so this game was a prelude to that match.

Let’s check the standings in League One as of April 26 before the games.

2023-24League One Order(Division 1) 4/26 
1Saitama Wildnights140066434
2Tokyo Brave Lupas121156133
3Tokyo Sungoliath103150187
4Yokohama Eagles104048105
5Kobe Steelers76136142
6Toyota Verblitz7703417
7Kubota Spears6713451
8Shizuoka Blue Revs6623371
9Sagamihara Dynaboars59022-183
10Black Rams Tokyo212013-162
11Mie Honda Heat11306-463
12Hanazono Riners11306-332
WP=Winning Point
SD=Score Difference

Listing the standings, the top four teams to advance to the playoffs have been determined. However, there is a possibility that the 3rd and 4th places may change places in the remaining two rounds.

Next are the bottom three teams that will face the elimination round, but there is still a possibility that the 9th and 10th places will be changed.

The teams that will play in the post-season playoffs and the elimination rounds will have to play the remaining 2 games with all their might.

The number of visitors on that day was 13,147, more than 10,000 people. This was indeed the Fuchu Derby.

Now, let me give you the latest information on the two teams that will be playing on this day.

First, let me introduce the host team for the day, Toshiba Brave Lupas.

Brave Lupas, who finished the season in second place, has returned to the lineup after a late-season injury layoff. The captain, No.8 MICHAEL, and WTB NAIKABURA were back. The team was then fully prepared for the playoffs. SO M “OUNGA, who was not on the starting lineup for this day, but had been out of the game for about 2 weeks due to family reasons, is expected to be ready for the playoffs. If Toshiba Brave Lupas wins the championship, it will be the first time in 14 seasons. Fans will be excited to cheer them on.

Today’s starting lineup is as follows

TOSHIBA Brave Lupas
1Sena KIMURA175cm105kg24 
2Mamoru HARADA175cm101kg24 
3Yuta KOKAJI176cm109kg25 
4Warner Dearns202cm123kg21Japan 11caps
5Jacob PIERCE201cm106kg26 
6Shannon FRIZELL195cm114kg29New Zealand  33caps
7Takeshi SASAKI180cm101kg26 
8Michael LEITCH189cm113kg35Japan 84caps
9Yuhei Sugiyama169cm76kg26 
10Hayata NAKAO176cm86kg28Japan 1caps
11Michael COLLINS187cm94kg30 
12Nicholas McCURRAN188cm93kg27 
13Seta TAMANIVALU189cm104kg32NZ3cap,Fiji 3cap
14Jone NAIKABULA177cm95kg29Japan 8caps
15Takuro MATSUNAGA172cm82kg25 

** Player to watch **

Hayata NAKAO. 176cm, 86kg, 28 years old. Position = SO. cap = 1 for Japan. He is a graduate of Kagoshima University in Japan, and has been a member of the Brave Lupas since last season. NAKAO himself was the main SO of Brave Lupas until last season, and as the leader, he has no problem combining with the other members of the team. It will be interesting to see what kind of uniqueness he would show as SO in the match on this day.

Next, an update on Suntory Sungoliath, the Visitor Team for the day.

Sungoliath is currently in third place in the playoffs and will advance. With the Canon Eagles currently in fourth place and one point ahead of them, the standings could be reversed with two games remaining. The playoff matchups are 1st place vs. 4th place and 2nd place vs. 3rd place, so the higher ranked team has the advantage in the matchups.

This season, Sungoliath is characterized by a large, expansive attack that uses a lot of ground. Currently, they are missing their main players, prop HOSOKI, flanker CANE (NZ national team), SH NAGARE (Japan national team), and FB KOLBE (South Africa national team). It is doubtful that they will be able to make the playoffs. A strong team, Sungoliath has been in the playoffs consecutively since 2016, but is eight seasons away from winning the championship. The playoffs are short-lived, so Sungoliath has a chance to win the championship this season. It will be interesting to see how Sungoliath will fare against second-place Brave Lupas in today’s prelude to the playoffs.

The starting lineup for today’s match was as follows

Suntory Sungoliath
1Yukio MORIKAWA180cm113kg30Japan 2cap
2Kosuke Horikoshi175cm100kg28Japan 7cap
3Shinnosuke Kakinaga180cm115kg31Japan 12cap
4Trevor HOSEA203cm114kg24 
5Harry HOCKINGS206cm118kg25 
6Kanji Shimokawa188cm105kg24Japan 5cap
7Kai YAMAMOTO177cm100kg23 
8Tamati IOANE187m121kg26 
9Naoto SAITO165cm73kg26Japan 19cap
10Mikiya Takamoto171cm80kg22 
11Shota EMI183cm95kg32 
12Ryoto Nakamura181cm92kg32Japan 39cap
13Isaiah PINIVAI189cm100kg23 
14Seiya Ozaki175cm85kg28Japan 4cap
15Kotaro MATSUSHIMA178cm88kg30Japan 55cap

** Player to watch **

Naoto SAITO. 165cm, 73kg, 26 years old. He is a graduate of Waseda University. He won the University Championship as a captain in his senior year, and was the main SH for Japan at RWC2023 with his Sungoliath teammate NAGARE. As the center of their attack, SAITO’s quick passing is the lifeblood of the team. Fans are eager to see if he can replace the injured NAGARE and lead the team to victory.

Let’s start the first half. Kickoff time was 12:05.

2 minutes into the first half:

Brave Lupas kicked off to start the game, and Sungoliath caught the kicked-off ball. Sungoliath was caught by Brave Lupas, who promptly went for the ball and Sungoliath was penalized for Not Releasing the Ball.

Brave Lupas elected to go for the PG, as they were right in front of the goal at the time of the infringement.

SO NAKAO of Brave Lupas scored the first goal with ease. The score was 3-0.

11 minutes into the first half:

Brave Lupas kicked the ball into their own territory and WTB COLLINS caught it and tried to counter-attack, The ball spilled out and Brave Lupas won the ball again, and WTB NAIKABURA, with his quick feet, got past the opponents’ defense and went close to the enemy’s in-goal. Finally, the ball was passed to CTB TAMANIVALU who followed NAIKABURA, and TAMANIVALU scored a try right in the middle of the enemy’s in-goal.

The conversion goal after the try was also successful, making the score 10-0 in favor of Brave Lupas.

17 minutes into the first half:

Sungoliath launched a series of attacks as they entered enemy territory, but Brave Lupas’ defense held firm, making it difficult for them to get close to the enemy in-goal. Eventually, Sungoliath attacked until the 22nd minute, where a PG was chosen due to a foul by the opponent.

SO TAKAMOTO scored this PG to make the score 10-3.

19 minutes into the first half:

Brave Lupas entered the enemy territory, and from a lineout on the right side near the 22m line, Brave Lupas’ SO NAKAO lifted a short punt, which was caught by CTB TAMANIVAL, who immediately followed it up on the right side and passed to CTB McCURAN, who immediately followed him to the right. Brave Lupas again showed great backs’ coordination to break through the opposing defense and score a try.

Brave Lupas also scored the conversion goal after the try to make the score 17-3.

42 minutes into the first half:

Sungoliath was unable to score a try until the closing minutes of the first half. They came close to scoring a try at the end of the first half, just short of the enemy in-goal, but despite an infringement by their opponents, they concentrated on scoring a try instead of going for the PG.

The Brave Lupas’ defensive pressure was so strong that Sungoliath was unable to get into the in-goal for a long time. After swinging left and right, the ball finally opened up on the right side and was passed from CTB to WTB, and finally WTB OZAKI scored a try in the right center.

The conversion goal after the try was also successful, making the score 17-10. The first half ended with Brave Lupas leading by 7 points, and Sungoliath will be looking to carry the momentum of their one try at the end of the first half into the second half.

Looking back at the first half, Brave Lupas scored a lot of points by using a variety of sign plays, while Sungoliath could not break down their opponents’ defenses and score as much points as they would have liked.

Sungoliath’s try pattern was to swing the ball wide left and right, and when the ball was turned out wide, the determined WTB exploited the space to score. However, on this day’s match, Sungoliath’s SH SAITO was not able to supply the ball smoothly because Brave Lupas was pressuring them around the cluster. In the second half, Sungoliath’s SH SAITO will have to see how they can correct this problem, and also how they can rebuild their defense, as Sungoliath’s defenders were penetrated many times during Brave Lupas’ attacks.

Let’s get the second half underway.

6 minutes into the second half:

Brave Lupas started their attack from a position a little bit deep into the enemy territory, and although the attack was not always smooth, Brave Lupas players picked up the ball down the field and attacked in succession to break the line. WTB COLLINS scored his second try of the day in the middle of the enemy in-goal.

The conversion goal after the try was also successful, making the score 24-10.

11 minutes into the second half:

Brave Lupas came close to the enemy’s in-goal and repeated the wave attack by the FW’s rushing.

Sungoliath also persisted in front of the in-goal and did not allow an easy try, but after a vertical rush by the FW, WTB NAIKABULA came out of the shadow of the FW to rush diagonally and scored a brilliant try at the left corner of the enemy goal post.

The conversion goal after the try was also successful, and the score was 31-10, Brave Lupas leading by 21 points.

Compared to Sungoliath, who had scored tries in more than 20 phases of continuous attacks, Brave Lupas was able to break the opposing defense with relative ease, which was reflected in the point difference.

24 minutes into the second half:

Sungoliath pushed their opponents with a scrum just beyond the enemy 22-meter line, forcing a foul on their opponents and earning a lineout of their own ball from a penalty kick. Sungoliath secured possession, pushed forward in a maul, and substitute hooker Miyazaki scored a try in the middle right of the enemy in-goal.

The conversion goal after the try failed, and the score was 31-15.

26 minutes into the first half:

After a kicking duel, Brave Lupas attempted a counter attack, with passes going from 10 to 15 to 12 to 11, and WTB COLLINS scored his third try of the day in the left corner of the enemy’s in-goal.

Sungoliath’s defense came back too late.

The conversion goal after the try failed, and the score was 36-15.

30 minutes into the second half:

Sungoliath’s attack found its rhythm at this time. Sungoliath started to make some good passes from the halfway line, and when they got close to the in-goal, WTB EMI dived and overcame the crowd in front of the in-goal to score a try in the left center of the enemy’s in-goal.

The conversion goal after the try was also successful, making the score 36-22.

40 minutes into the second half:

Towards the end of the match, Sungoliath attempted a counter attack from their own territory. Sungoliath’s running and breaking players such as CTB PINIVAI and WTB OZAKI connected the ball and went close to the enemy’s in-goal. The try was scored in the right center of the in-goal of the enemy line.

40 minutes into the second half:

Toward the end of the match, Sungoliath attempted a counter attack from their own territory. Sungoliath’s CTB PINIVAI and WTB OZAKI, with their running and breaking ability, connected the ball and approached the enemy in-goal. Finally, CTB PINIVAI received a pass from Lock HOCKINGS and scored a try right in the enemy in-goal.

After the try, the conversion goal failed, and the score was 36-27.

In the end, the score remained the same and the game ended with Brave Lupas winning the match. These two teams are likely to play each other in the playoffs, so we hope Sungoliath, who lost today, will be inspired.


Stop the war.

Peace to Ukraine