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Coaches go out in style as Toshiba takes title

by Zilia Papp

Head coaches Masahiro Kunda and Eiji Kutsuki finished their Top League careers at Sunday’s All Japan Finals, where the Toshiba Brave Lupus won the title with a 19-10 victory over the Toyota Verblitz.

News photoToshiba Brave Lupus wing Nataniela Oto breaks Toyota Verblitz tackles during the first half of the National Championship on Sunday at Prince Chichibu Stadium in Tokyo. Toshiba won 19-10 for its second straight national title.
KYODO PHOTO

The showdown at Tokyo’s Prince Chichibu Stadium was worthy of the coaches’ high profile.

Toyota relied on its kicking game without much success, and Toshiba’s defense was impenetrable.

Brave Lupus lock Kentaro Kokuzawa — who found his way into the lineup only because of an injured teammate — scored two tries in a row in the wide, as Toshiba’s forwards dominated the breakdown.

“Toshiba is definitely the strongest team in Japan,” Kutsuki said after the game. “They changed their defense systems for a wide defensive style for this game, and we couldn’t deliver our pinpoint attacks.”

Toshiba coach Kunda promised the fans to show what real rugby was about in the finals, when meeting with former National Team teammate Kutsuki’s squad.

Teppei Tomioka, Toshiba’s captain, called Toyota an ideal opponent — both physical and tactical — and said his team was looking forward to the game with delight.

Kokuzawa made sure Toshiba did not walk away from the game disappointed.

Kokuzawa didn’t play many games this season, this time substituting for the injured Luatangi Samurai Vatuvei. Karma caught up with the Samurai, who sent Suntory wing Koji Taira off on a stretcher at the Microsoft Cup finals, and who in turn suffered a calf injury during practice.

Nonetheless, Kokuzawa proved to be an excellent substitute, surprising Verblitz forwards with his speed and tactical skills.

“It was a great chance for growth to play against Japan’s best,” said Kutsuki before stepping down.

Toshiba’s Kunda, also retiring, was equally full of praise for the opponent.

“Toyota is our strongest opponent in the Top League,” he said. “I am glad we could show our best rugby styles at the finals.”

While Kutsuki’s future is laid out as a regular Toyota employee, Kunda is rumored to be joining the National Team coaching squad for the coming World Cup.

It depends on his employers at Toshiba and whether they lend him to the Rugby Union, but given that Toshiba president Tadashi Okamura is an old rugger man himself, it is quite likely that Kunda will soon return to the bench alongside Japan national team coach John Kirwan.