RUGBY JERSEY – League One Playoffs Final: Panasonic Wild Knights vs Toshiba Brave Lupas

 (Written by Azul: June 11, 2024)

The Japan Rugby League One playoff final to conclude the 2023-2024 season was held on May 25, 2024. The final was held at the National Stadium in Tokyo. The final was held at Tokyo’s National Stadium and attracted 56,486 spectators, the largest attendance in League One’s history.

Judging from last season’s results, I was expecting about 40,000 people to show up, but I was wrong in a good way. I hope that the League One game will continue to develop better and that the Japanese national rugby team, which grew out of this event, will perform well at RWC 2027.

And it was a fair matchup between Wild Knights, who finished first in the league this season, and Brave Lupas, who finished second, who advanced to this final stage.

At the venue, ASANO caster of J Sports, who will broadcast live the day’s broadcast, could also be seen.

By the way, it had been about two months since I had been to the National Stadium, and with such a large crowd, the view and cheering were spectacular.

The temperature that day was 25 degrees, making it a perfect day for spectators to watch the game. For the players, it might have been a little hotter.

Although the main visitors were supporters of both teams, there were many supporters of other teams as well, since this is the highest level of Japanese rugby.

Now, let me introduce the two teams that will be playing in this match.

First of all, let me introduce Panasonic Wild Knights, the first place team in the league.

The Wild Knights’ league record this season was 16 wins and no losses. In addition, they ranked first in total points scored and first in team defense (fewest runs allowed) in the league this season. Last season, the team lost in the finals and regrettably failed to win the league championship for the third consecutive year, but the way they have played this season, they deserve the title of “absolute champions. In addition, HOOKER HORIE and SH UCHIDA, the team’s spiritual pillars, announced their retirement at this game, so this final was a game that the Wild Knights could not afford to lose.

The starting lineup for this day’s match was as follows.

Panasonic Wild Nights
1Daniel PEREZ185cm108kg27 
2Atsushi Sakade180cm104kg30Japan 41cap
3Taiki Fujii183cm114kg25 
4Jack CORNELSEN195cm110kg29Japan 20cap
5Lood De JAGER206cm127kg30Soth Africa 65cap
6Ben GUNTER195cm120kg26Japan 8cap
7Lachlan BOSHIER191cm110kg29 
8Shota FUKUI185cm101kg24Japan 3cap
9Daiki Koyama171cm74kg29Japan
10Rikiya Matsuda181cm92kg29Japan 37cap
11Marika KOROIBETE182cm96kg31Australia 59cap
12Damian De ALLENDE190cm105kg32Soth Africa 78cap
13Dylan RILEY187cm102kg26Japan 18cap
14Kohki TAKEYAMA175cm87kg27Japan 1cap
15Takuya YAMASAWA176cm84kg29Japan 6cap

The best members of the team were all present for the final, with almost no injuries (although INAGAKI, the Japan national team prop, was absent).

** Player to watch  **

(The dreadlocks style player on the left in the photo is HORIE)

Shota HORIE. 180 cm, 105 kg, 38 years old. Position = Hooker. He is a graduate of Teikyo University and has played in four consecutive RWC tournaments: RWC 2011 NZ, 2015 England, 2019 Japan, and 2023 France. In recent years, he has made his presence felt as an impact player, often starting in the second half of games. He is known as a “rusbos (=game changer)” among fans for his ability to turn the tide and lead his team to victory even in poor games.

Next up is today’s Wild Knights opponent, TOSHIBA Brave Lupas.

TOSHIBA, formerly known to fans as TOSHIBA FUCHU, is a five-time champion in the Top League, the predecessor to League One, along with Panasonic and SUNTORY. However, in recent years, they have not performed well and have been languishing in the middle of the pack, but this time, they have made it to the finals after a long absence. If they win the championship here, it will be the first time in 14 years. The team is known for its head-to-head aggressiveness, with a focus on the front rows. This season, the team finished in second place in the league standings with a record of 15 wins and 1 loss. It was the Wild Knights who suffered that one loss. Brave Lupas will be looking for a win in this final as a team and as fans.

This day’s starting lineup was 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 
10Richie MO’UNGA176cm83kg30New Zealand  56caps
11Atsuki KUWAYAMA183cm90kg26 
12Nicholas McCURRAN188cm93kg27 
13Michael COLLINS187cm94kg30 
14Jone NAIKABULA177cm95kg29Japan 8caps
15Takuro MATSUNAGA172cm82kg25 

Brave Lupas were without No.8 Leach MICHAEL and WTB NAIKABULA (both Japanese national team players) early in the season, and SO MO’UNGA (NZ national team player) was also sidelined at the end of the season, but still managed to hold on to 2nd place in the league. This shows the strength of the team this season, and in this final, they were able to play with their best team members. We expect the team to play a match worthy of being the strongest in the country.

** Players to watch **

Richie MO’UNGA. 176cm, 83kg, 30 years old. Position=SO, NZ cap=56. I have mentioned him before as a player to watch, but MO’UNGA is indispensable for Brave Lupas to win the championship. His addition to Brave Lupas this season has clearly changed the team’s attack. For the opposing team, Brave Lupas this season is a threat because of the variety of tactics they use with MO’UNGA at the center, making it difficult to narrow down the target. MO’UNGA has also shown many times this season that it can detect the seeds of danger in advance and prevent it from happening in the event of a pinch for its own team. Going into the finals, MO’UNGA is coming in with a winner’s mentality permeating throughout the team. This man is serious about leading Brave Lupas to the championship.

Let’s start the first half. Kickoff time was 15:05.

5 minutes into the first half:

The Wild Knights gradually made their way forward from the kickoff, deep in enemy territory. However, the Brave Lupas defenders were also checking at each point of contact and were not easily intercepted. However, as they approached the goal line, Wild Knights’ SH KOYAMA went into the enemy’s in-goal and almost scored a try, but the referee ruled that it was a knock-on.

However, when the Wild Knights made a series of attacks in the enemy territory, Brave Lupas committed a foul about 20 meters in front of the goal post, and the Wild Knights opted for a PG.

The score was 3-0.

10 minutes into the first half:

The Wild Knights attacked again, this time from deep in the enemy territory, and as before, they drew a foul on Brave Lupas about 20 meters in front of the goalposts. The Wild Knights were able to get out of the tight pack and move to the left, where the ball was passed to FB Yamasawa, who drove the ball into the in-goal.

He went deep from 1m in front of the in-goal to score a try, but Brave Lupas’ No.8 Michael made a full-body tackle to prevent the try, showing excellent defense that did not allow the opponent to advance even 1mm. The Wild Knights were unable to score.

20 minutes into the first half:

Despite missing the chance to score a try, Wild Knights continued to dominate the game in enemy territory, and at this point in the half, they drew another infringement about 20 meters in front of the goal posts. At this point, with the Brave Lupas defense looking solid, the Wild Knights opted for the PG, which SO MATSUDA converted to make the score 6-0.

27 minutes into the first half:

Brave Lupas was finally able to get into the game in their own half. Several times they came close to scoring in the opposition’s in-goal, creating chances, and the game became heated and the stadium crowd cheered loudly.

Just past the enemy 22-meter line, Brave Lupas made a move from the left side to the right, and the ball was passed to WTB NAIKABULA on the outside, who got tangled up with two or three opposing defenders in front of the in-goal, but reached out and scored a try in the right corner of the enemy’s in-goal.

Brave Lupas scored the conversion goal after the try to make the score 6-7 and pull the game back in their favor.

35 minutes into the first half:

Brave Lupas was in the middle of the field, and after a series of attacks, a foul by the opposing team led to a PG opportunity just to the left of the goal post near the 22m line. SO MO’UNGA took the kick, making the score 6-10.

Brave Lupas ended the first half with a three-points lead. The crowd cheered for the teams as they played a spectacular and heated game with tight defense and few mistakes. It was exciting to see what kind of game they would show us in the second half.

Let the second half begin.

5 minutes into the second half:

Towards the end of the first half, Wild Knights WTB KOLOIBETE prevented a try, but was shown a yellow card for a tackle that was dangerous play. This meant that Wild Knights had to play with one man less until the first 10 minutes of the second half.

Brave Lupas’ SO MO’UNGA, hoping to capitalize on the early second half momentum in his side’s favor, received the ball in his own half and kicked it to the right side, which went out beyond the enemy 22-meter line, resulting in the 50-22 rule being applied and their own lineout being won deep in enemy territory.

Brave Lupas’ WTB NAIKABULA took advantage of this opportunity, ran onto the ball from the lineout, received it, and raced across the right line to score a try in the right corner of the enemy’s in-goal.

SO MO’UNGA scored the conversion goal from a difficult angle at the right corner to make the score 6-17 in favor of Brave Lupas.

23 minutes into the second half:

The Wild Knights had been struggling to create any chances until this time. However, after being pushed deep into their own territory, SO MATSUDA kicked a golo punt into the enemy territory, and WTB TAKEYAMA kicked the ball further into the enemy in-goal. And they were close to the enemy’s in-goal. Wild Knights flanker GUNTER took advantage of a momentary lapse in the pack, picked up the ball, and scored a try right in the middle of the enemy line.

The Wild Knights followed up the try with a successful conversion goal to make the score 13-17, four points to their advantage.

With this try, Wild Knights brought the game back to a level playing field. The buzzing excitement in the stadium remained unabated.

28 minutes into the second half:

The Wild Knights suddenly went on the offensive and attacked in the enemy territory, and from the left from a tight pack, FB Yamasawa lifted a short punt which was barely caught by WTB KOLOIBETE, who went close to the enemy’s in-goal. It was almost a try for the Wild Knights, but WTB NAIKABURA of Brave Lupas made a spirited tackle to save the ball. However, a tight pack formed here, and Wild Knights’ SH KOYAMA ran in and scored a try to the left of the enemy’s in-goal.

The conversion goal after the try was also successful, making the score 20-17, and Wild Knights finally succeeded in making a comeback.

The stadium became a melting pot of excitement as the two teams fought breathlessly against each other. With just over 10 minutes remaining, it was impossible to predict which way the game would go.

34 minutes into the second half:

As the match approached the end, both teams were showing signs of fatigue, but Brave Lupas, led by their substitutes, attacked in succession, and on their 13th attack in a row, the ball was developed on the right touchline and passed from right WTB NAIKABULA to left WTB MORI, who scored a try just below the goal post. MORI scored a try right under the goal post.

The conversion goal was also successful, making the score 20-24, and Brave Lupas was back in front again.

38 minutes into the second half:

With two minutes left in the game, the Wild Knights made a series of spirited attacks deep in enemy territory, almost dropping the ball several times, but on their 16th attack, they connected with the ball toward the right side, where substitute WTB OSADA received the ball and dodged two opposing defenders, and scored the game-deciding try just below the goal post.

At this moment, many Brave Lupas players seemed to have run out of energy and stamina, and many kneeled on the ground.

At this point, the score was 25-24 and the Wild Knights had a one-point lead with only the conversion goal remaining.

At this point, however, a VTR decision by the TMO revealed that there had been a throw forward foul in the middle of a series of attacks. As a result, the last Wild Knights try was disallowed.

After the 80th minute, with only one play remaining, the Wild Knights made a last-ditch effort to attack, but when the game became a tight battle, Brave Lupas’ WTB NAIKABULA took the ball out of the hands of his opponent for a jackal to end the game and give Brave Lupas their first championship in 14 seasons. The game ended with Brave Lupas winning the championship for the first time in 14 seasons. The final score was 20-24.

Brave Lupas was on thin ice in the final minutes of the match, but they impressed their fans with the resurgence of their prestigious name.

Players from both teams congratulating each other on their good performance in the match. Thanks to both teams for a great match, and thanks to the Man of the Match for the match. The man of the match went to WTB NAIKABULA of Brave Lupas.

The season of League One is now over and the test matches for the Japanese national team will start on June 22. Expectations are high to see what kind of matches the national team players will show us.


Stop the war.

Peace to Ukraine