Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath VS Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights
(Author: Azul, March 30, 2023)
On 11 March 2023, I went to Chichibunomiya Rugby Ground in Minato Ward, Tokyo, to watch the 11th League One match between Suntory Sungoliath and Panasonic WildNights. The match was the same combination as last season’s League One final, so the crowd was extraordinary.
The paid attendance was 19,076, almost a full house.
The day was also blessed with fine weather, warm and spring-like, and people could be seen wearing light clothing. As it was a home game for Sungoliath, the yellow cheering merchandise was noticeable.
Let’s take a look at the standings of the two teams at the start of Section 10 of League One.
|2022-23||League One Order(Division 1)||2023.3.11|
|5||Tokyo Brave Lupas||5||5||0||26||103|
|6||Black Rams Tokyo||5||6||0||23||41|
|10||Shizuoka Blue Revs||2||6||2||17||-1|
|11||Green Rockets Tokatsu||2||8||0||9||-205|
There were a few upsets in the Section 10 games.
Eighth-placed Shizuoka Blue Revs drew with fourth-placed Canon Eagles. However, they dropped two places in the standings.
Next, 10th-placed Toyota Verblitz moved up one place as they beat third-placed Suntory Sungoliath.
The teams in fifth to tenth place have a small difference in points, so they move up or down a couple of places depending on the win or loss in that section.
Let’s take a look at the two teams that played on the day.
First, an update on home team Suntory Sungoliath.
Sungoliath were the second-placed team last season and played a competitive game in the final. Naturally, they are favourites to win the championship again this season, but looking at their record this season, they have already suffered two defeats by the end of the tenth round. Some expect them to drop down the table from last season, especially as they lost to tenth-placed Toyota Verblitz in the 10th round. Against the teams at the top of the table, their vaunted attacking prowess does not seem to be translating well enough. Now, I will be interested to see how Sungoliath will fare against leaders WildNights. Today’s starting line-up was as follows.
|2||Shunta NAKAMURA||178cm||100kg||28||Japan 0cap|
|3||Shinnosuke Kakinaga||180cm||115kg||30||Japan 11cap|
|4||Tui Hendrik||188cm||110kg||35||Japan 47cap|
|6||Kanji SHIMOKAWA||188cm||105kg||23||Japan 0cap|
|8||Tevita TATAFU||183m||124kg||26||Japan 14cap|
|9||Yutaka NAGARE||166cm||75kg||30||Japan 29cap|
|10||Aaron CRUDEN||175cm||82kg||33||New Zealand 50cap|
|12||Ryoto NAKAMURA||181cm||92kg||30||Japan 30cap|
|13||Shogo NAKANO||186cm||98kg||25||Japan 5cap|
|14||Seiya Ozaki||175cm||85kg||27||Japan 4cap|
|15||Kotaro MATSUSHIMA||178cm||88kg||29||Japan 46cap|
＊＊ Player to watch ＊＊
Ryoto NAKAMURA. 181 cm, 92 kg, 30 years old. Position = CTB. Japan national cap = 30. a key player in Sungoliath’s team, who builds attacks and plays a key role in the defence. He was a SO in high school and university, so he has a bird’s-eye view of the whole ground. He also has a strong physical strength and is more than capable of dealing with top-class overseas players on a physical level.
Next, I would like to introduce today’s opponents, the Panasonic WildNights.
Panasonic WildNights is the absolute champion, having reached the top of the Japan Rugby Professional League for two consecutive seasons in the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 seasons, and are undefeated so far this season, aiming for a third consecutive title. The WildNights have a way of going about their business and even when they take an early lead, they always manage to turn it around and win the game in the second half of the match. All eyes will be on which team will be able to stop the WildNights’ winning streak. The starting line-up for the day is as follows:
|Panasonic Wild Nights|
|1||Keita Inagaki||186cm||116kg||31||Japan 44cap|
|2||Atsushi Sakade||180cm||104kg||28||Japan 32cap|
|5||Lood De JAGER||206cm||127kg||30||Soth Africa 65cap|
|6||Ben Gunter||195cm||120kg||24||Japan 2cap|
|8||Jack CORNELSEN||195cm||110kg||28||Japan 11cap|
|10||Rikiya Matsuda||181cm||92kg||28||Japan 29cap|
|11||Ryuji Noguchi||177cm||83kg||27||Japan 14cap|
|12||Damian De ALLENDE||190cm||105kg||31||Soth Africa 68cap|
|13||Dylan Riley||187cm||102kg||25||Japan 9cap|
|15||Takuya Yamasawa||176cm||84kg||27||Japan 6cap|
The reason for WildNights’ absolute strength is their depth of players. The starting line-up is a gorgeous team of players representing the strongest countries, a sort of World Selected Team.
＊＊ Player to watch ＊＊
Tomoki OSADA. 179 cm, 90 kg, 23 years old. Position = CTB,WTB. captain of Waseda University in the 2021-2022 season. He was selected as a starter for the first time this season for the WildNights, a team with a strong group of players. Has been selected for the national team in each age group and is expected to become the next generation’s national representative. His ability to read the flow of the game and react ahead of time is something that has been cultivated through natural ability and daily hard work.
So, let the match begin.
4 minutes into the first half:
Sungoliath were feeling it early in the game. The game started with both sides kicking several kicks towards the opposition. Sungoliath’s WTB OZAKI received the ball on the right side of the field a little way into the enemy territory, and he put up a small punt behind the enemy line, where Sungoliath’s BK players gathered, CTB NAKANO caught the ball and ran into the in-goal and scored the first try in the middle right. The conversion goal after the try was also successful and Sungoliath led the game with the score 7-0.
18 minutes into the first half:
Around the 16th minute, Sungoliath almost scored a try, but video judgement ruled it a no try, and the WildNights regrouped and kicked an in-goal drop-out ball that went to Sungoliath’s WTB OZAKI, who took a short punt and rolled it forward for OZAKI. short punt and rolled it forward. He then caught it himself and tried to score a try in the right corner of the enemy in-goal, but WildNights WTB NOGUCHI stopped him just before the try. A video decision was made and WildNights’ NOGUCHI’s tackle was infringed as he went before Sungoliath’s OZAKI had possession of the ball. A certified try was awarded as it would have been a Sungoliath try without this infringement. Because of the certified try, seven points were added to Sungoliath’s tally, making the score 14-0. The infringement also resulted in WildNights’ NOGUCHI being temporarily sent off for 10 minutes.
30 minutes into the first half:
Sungoliath were defensively aware on this occasion, and even when WildNights came close to scoring in front of the in-goal, they were able to win the ball back in a tight battle, making it difficult for them to score.
WildNights were unable to score a try, but they did cross the enemy 22m line, almost in front of the goal posts, and were awarded a PG following an infringement by their opponents. WildNights’ SO MATSUDA made a steady success of this, and the three points were returned. The score was 14-3.
33 minutes into the first half:
Sungoliath opted for a PG after an opponent’s high tackle infringement between the 10m and 22m lines in enemy territory, and Sungoliath substitute SO TAMURA made a fine PG from a rather difficult position to make the score 17-3, again taking the lead by 14 points. The score was 17-3.
The first half ended with the score at this level, Sungoliath were pushed deep into their own half by WildNights, but a tenacious defensive display from their FW players ensured that WildNights were not able to score a try.
As you can see from the photos, it was a perfect day to watch the game, with high temperatures. The match also allowed loud cheering, albeit with the condition that masks were worn. The stadium also returned to an atmosphere befitting a hotly contested match.
Now for the start of the second half.
Let’s start the second half.
5 minutes into the second half:
As WildNights, they needed to score first to bring their usual winning pattern into play. At the start, the densely-packed battle was evenly matched between the two teams. However, once the WildNights got into enemy territory, FL BOSHIER and WTB OSADA exchanged passes with each other on the right flank, and after a quick move forward, BOSHIER scored a try in the middle on the right. The conversion goal after the try was also successful and WildNights made the score 17-10.
8 minutes into the second half:
WildNights’ first score of the second half may have been a counter-attack, as Sungoliath quickly fought back. from the kick-off after the try, Sungoliath connected with the ball and No.8 TATAFU got behind the WildNights’ defensive net. Sungoliath were caught just in front of the in-goal, but from the density created here, Sungoliath quickly moved to the right and CTB NAKAMURA connected with WTB OZAKI, with OZAKI scoring a try on the right edge of the enemy’s in-goal. The conversion goal after the try was also successful and Sungoliath again outscored WildNights with the score 24-10.
13 minutes into the second half:
The WildNights players became more focussed at this time and began to steadily win the ball when they had the chance, and after a foul on the opposition in front of the enemy goal on the left, the WildNights won the ball in their own lineout and quickly moved forward in a maul, with FL. BOSHIER scored a try in the middle left of the enemy in-goal. The conversion goal after the try was also successful, making the score 24-17.
14 minutes into the second half:
With both teams now trading points, Sungoliath quickly started a series of attacks, going wide left and right. The WildNights’ CTB RILEY intercepted a Sungoliath pass from the SO to the CTB and ran through to score a try just under the opposition’s goalposts. The conversion goal after the try was also successful and the score was finally tied 24-24.
20 minutes into the second half:
The WildNights went on the offensive at this time of the half and Sungoliath, determined to stay on the losing side, made a series of attacks, but Sungoliath’s passes were forcibly deployed and the WildNights were able to steal them on a number of occasions. The WildNights took the ball and SO MATSUDA calmly found space in front of the enemy goal post, rolled in a punt and FB YAMAZAWA ran in to hold up the ball for a try. The conversion goal after the try was also successful and the score was 24-31 to the WildNights.
26 minutes into the second half:
In the second half, Sungoliath were passing the ball even when they were in an impossible position to be intercepted, while WildNights were not releasing dangerous passes, but a numerical advantage was formed as their followers ran to the opposite side. This allowed WildNights’ WTB OSADA to receive a pass and score a try right down the middle. The conversion goal after the try was also successful, making the score 24-38 and WildNights finally 14 points ahead.
33 minutes into the second half:
Sungoliath came close to scoring several times in the closing stages with a series of attacks on the opposition’s in-goal, but at the crucial moments, they threw difficult passes and cut off their own attacks. Conversely, WildKnights pushed forward from this point and came close to the opposition goal, which Sungoliath tried to stop, but committed an infringement, giving WildNights a PG opportunity in front of the in-goal. SO Matsuda converted it to make the score 24-41.
44 minutes of the second half:
Sungoliath finally had a chance to score towards the end of the game. From a lineout on their own ball in front of the in-goal on the right side of the opposition line, a maul was formed and they pushed forward for a try, but the WildNights rebounded. From here, Sungoliath moved to the left and the ball was finally passed to WTB OZAKI on the left side, who scored a try in the left corner of the enemy’s in-goal. The conversion goal after the try failed.
Sungoliath got their revenge with a try at the end of the match, but the final score was 29-41, and in the end it was a fair win for the leaders WildNights. However, Sungoliath also showed signs of a resurgence of strong attacking power that had not been seen in recent games. Expect a great match in the play-offs.
With five games remaining in League One for each team, will the WildNights continue their winning streak or will there be a team that can halt their winning streak? We look forward to the future of League One to give the Japanese national team momentum at RWC 2023.
Stop the war.
Peace to Ukraine