(written by Azul, January 13th, 2022)
Rugby, one of the professional sports in Japan, has started as “Japan Rugby League One” from 2022.
In comparison to the Top League era
In the Top League, 16 teams participate, and in League One, all 12 teams participate.
In the Top League era, each team played 11 matches a year in a league format. The top eight teams then played in a tournament to determine the winner.
In League One, each team plays six games a year in the Home & Away format. The top four teams will then play in a tournament to determine the winner.
There is a plan for the winning team to play an exchange match with the winning club of the league overseas (details to be determined).
Until 2020, the Sunwolves from Japan participated in the Super Rugby of the southern hemisphere in parallel with the Top League, but this team has now disappeared.
The Sunwolves’ participation in Super Rugby, the world’s premier professional league, had the role of strengthening the Japanese national rugby team, but with the disappearance of the Sunwolves, this role has come to be demanded of League One. As a result, we have signed a number of famous overseas players to help raise the level of professional rugby league in Japan.
Each team has many players at the national level, and fans can expect to see high-level matches. In League One, each team will be required to make a community-based sales effort as an independently financed professional team rather than a corporate team as in the past.
On January 7, the opening game of the League One season was scheduled to be played at the National Stadium in Tokyo, between Kubota Spears Funabashi-Tokyo Bay and Saitama Wild Knights. However, the game was cancelled due to the outbreak of a number of new corona cases in the Wild Knights. Therefore, the next day, January 8, became the actual opening day of the League One. I went to watch the game between Tokyo Suntory Sangorias and Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo at the Tokyo Stadium in Chofu City.
The photo above is a publicity poster that was posted at Fuchu Station. Both Sungoliath and Brave Lupus have their training grounds in Fuchu City, so this game is also called the Fuchu Derby. Both teams are popular, so we expect a good game.
The game was scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. Before the game, I stopped by Fuchu Station to make a New Year’s visit. Fuchu City has the historic Okunitama Shrine in front of the station, and there was a good crowd on January 8th.
I went there to pray for good health and safety in my home. Afterwards, I drew a fortune at the shrine. The number that came out of the box was “44,” and I had a bad feeling about it. Because I had gotten a “bad” fortune before, and had gotten very sick that year. When I exchanged this “44” for a fortune, the fortune in the picture below came out.
Oh, as long as it’s not “bad luck,” I’m fine. Thank goodness.
Now, let’s go to Tokyo Stadium. I found something interesting in front of the station. The mayor of Fuchu City is a former member of Rikkyo University’s rugby club, and the city is planning to revitalize itself with rugby as “Rugby City Fuchu. There was a commemorative monument in front of the station.
Then, I took the Keio Line from Fuchu Station to Tobitakyu Station. This was the main venue for the RWC 2019, and I watched many games at the Tokyo Stadium. More than two years later, I was able to watch rugby games at this stadium again. Thanks to the new corona outbreak, the rugby boom in Japan has been put on hold.
In 2019, the RWC flag was flown at the ticket gate of Tobitakyu Station, but now the flag of FC Tokyo, a J1 League soccer team based in this stadium, is hung. FC Tokyo’s flag is now hanging.
This square in front of the station was crowded with foreign supporters during the RWC, but as expected, not so many spectators have come.
Still, it was nostalgic to walk along this street. It took me about seven or eight minutes to get to the stadium.
As I was walking, I noticed that the city of Chofu changed the manhole cover to RWC use to commemorate the RWC.
The Tokyo Stadium came into view. It’s quite crowded. Today’s game is between two teams that both play at Tokyo Stadium, but today is treated as a home game for Sungoliath.
Fortunately, the temperature today was 13 degrees Celsius and there was no wind, making it feel like spring. That’s great for the spectators.
The stadium is usually named Ajinomoto Stadium, but during the RWC, we couldn’t use the corporate name, so we called it Tokyo Stadium.
Here are the opposing teams for this match.
＊＊ Tokyo Suntory Sangorias ＊＊
Runner-up in the Top League last season. They are the candidates for the League One championship this season, with nine current Japanese national team players, two Australian national team players, and one New Zealand national team player. The team has a strong attacking core in both FW and BK, and boasts the No.1 attacking power in the league.
＊＊ Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo ＊＊
Ranked 9th in the Top League last season. A prestigious team that has won the Japan Championship six times. The team has four current Japanese national team players. The team’s color is based on the breakthrough power of its powerful FW players. In this match, the team is looking for the humiliation of losing last year’s match.
Entering Tokyo Stadium for the first time in two years and four months, the excitement of the 2019 RWC still comes back to me. I am happy to be able to watch the match here again.
Before the start of the match, League One was declared open by President Tamazuka. Since yesterday’s opening game was cancelled, the opening declaration was made at this day’s game.
The main attraction for the spectators was the appearance of NZ’s Mackenzie, who is the highlight of the season. At 177cm tall and 78kg, he is small for a rugby player, but he is one of the core players of the All Blacks, so his every move attracted a lot of attention. The number of visitors for the day was announced to be 10,075.
The match kicked off at 15:30.
Suntory Sungoliath, the home team, took the lead in the match. From a ruck in enemy territory, the ball went right through FB McKenzie to WTB Ozaki who scored a try on the left side. McKenzie’s first conversion goal was missed, but the score was 5-0 in favor of Sungoliath.
Eight minutes into the first half, Toshiba Brave Lupus struck back. From a lineout in enemy territory, a series of attacks led by the FW team resulted in a try by 19-year-old rookie LO Deans, who dragged an opponent under the goal posts. Deans is a 2-meter LO, a long-awaited player for the Japanese national team. He is only 19 years old, but I hope that he will continue to grow and become a key player for the national team.
After the try, the Blave Lupus scored a conversion goal to make the score 5-7 in favor of Japan.
In the 15th minute of the first half, the Sungoliath got a PG opportunity, and FB McKenzie scored his first goal in Japan. The score was 8-7, a one-point lead for the Sungoliath. The game was a scrappy affair, with both sides exchanging points.
Here is a quick look at the scoring sequence.
17th minute: Brave Lupas’s new LO Pierce kicked the ball over the goal line for a try. The conversion goal is successful. The score is 8-14.
After this, both teams scored a PG. The score was 11-17.
26th minute: Sungoliath attacked, WTB Ozaki broke away from the right side, and №8 McMahon scored a try. The conversion goal was successful. The score is now 18-17 and Sungoliath has turned the game around.
28min: Sungoliath deploys BK in their own half, but the ball is dropped. Toshiba’s WTB Naikabura picked up the ball and scored a try. The conversion goal was also successful. The score was 18-24, and Toshiba was back on top.
The score was 18-24 in favor of Brave Lupas, and the two teams scored a PG each to take the lead at the end of the first half, 24-27.
In last year’s matchup, Brave Lupas suffered a humiliating defeat by nearly 70 points, so they were fired up for this game.
In the second half, Sungoliath’s No.8, McMahon, played a big role.
He scored consecutive tries in the 4th and 9th minutes to complete his hat-trick for the day. With his efforts, the score was 36-27 and Suntory took a 9-point lead.
Soon after, Brave Lupas’s LO Pierce scored his second try of the day to put Sungoliath on the back foot. However, Sungoliath’s attackers began to show their true colors. Brave Lupas scored a try and Sungoliath scored three more, and by the 29th minute of the second half, the score was 60-34.
After the game was almost decided, Toshiba scored two more tries and the final score was 60-46 in favor of Suntory in the opening game.
By the way, Suntory’s player base is too thick compared to other teams. Here are some of the problems I see.
＊Japan national team candidate CTB Kajimura, who used to be a member of Suntory, moved to Eagles in search of playing opportunities.
＊Japan national team CTB Nakano wants to gain experience as a CTB, but the team is too thick. He has been playing as a WTB for a while. As a WTB, he moves like a WTB of the past, i.e., if he is a left WTB, he rarely moves to the other side. The modern WTB is required to appear in any direction, right or left, when the opportunity arises. Suntory’s CTB is Nakamura, a steadfast CTB for Japan, and another CTB is Australia national ‘s Kerevi, so there is no room for Nakano at the moment.
＊McKenzie, who joined from the NZ national team this season, is hoping to play SO for Japan, and has been a stalwart SO for the Chiefs in Super Rugby until last year. At 178 cm, McKenzie is more suited to the SO position. He throws a great pass that no one else can imitate, and I hope the Sungoliath players will learn that skill. Japanese BK players’ flying passes have a mountainous trajectory, but McKenzie’s passes fly in a straight line, even over long distances.
＊＊ Jersey Collection 52 ＊＊
This is not a replica model, but it is a jersey created in France colors. adidas original product. The basic color is blue with the three lines of the French flag in blue, white and red. This item in the photo was purchased for 3,980 yen at Yahoo Auction. It is a used product. If you buy it new, it will cost you more than 10,000 yen.