OTA, GUNMA PREF. – Panasonic Wild Knights kept up their good form of late with a 65-7 thrashing of NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes at Ota Sports Park on Sunday.
Even without a number of their big name players, the Wild Knights were simply too good for the visitors, running in 10 tries as they moved up to third in the standings and closed in on a place in the season-ending playoffs.
Fumiaki Tanaka and Shota Horie are down in Dunedin, New Zealand, and Melbourne, respectively, for a pre-season camp ahead of their move to Super Rugby’s Highlanders and Rebels next year. The pair is set to return in two weeks time for the game against Kobe Kobelco Steelers.
Also missing from the field, but in the stands, was Sonny Bill Williams. The former All Black was injured in Round 8 and needed surgery, which many thought would mean an end to his Japan adventure before he heads back to the Australian National Rugby League.
Panasonic coach Norifumi Nakajima, however, said after the game that he hoped Williams, who is in Ota doing his rehabilitation, may be fit for the playoffs.
Very much present, however, was flying wing Akihito Yamada, who finished the day with a hat trick of tries to take his tally for the season to 16.
Yamada’s first try saw him leave World Cup winner and All Blacks legend Mils Muliaina for dead with his pace, his second saw him hurdle a tackler on his way to the line, and the third started with him taking a flying catch that would not have looked out of place in an Aussie Rules game.
“When you play together as a team, then the key players get the ball in plenty of space,” said Panasonic assistant coach Tony Brown.
The defeat was NTT’s 10th straight, but captain Isao Matsukawa said he was still positive his side could eventually put a stop to the rot. “We created a lot of chances against a very good side,” he said. “The disappointing thing was we were unable to finish any of them off.”
Panasonic had the advantage of a howling wind in the first half and they got off to the ideal start with Seiichi Shimomura making the most of some poor defense to go over between the sticks and Atsushi Tanabe adding the first of six conversions.
Further tries followed for Sione Vatuvei, Yamada and Tomoki Kitagawa, with Tanabe adding a further conversion and a penalty as Panasonic secured a bonus point before halftime.
Playing into the wind in the second half, the Wild Knights kept the ball tight and ran in a procession of tries once the gaps opened up. “If you do the work properly in the first half then you tend to score more tries in the second,” said Brown. “We got the work done and that allowed us to dominate.”
Tetsuya Shitara, Sam Norton-Knight, Justin Ives and Yasuki Hayashi all crossed before Yamada rounded off the game in style.
NTT managed one try through Mitchell Chapman, converted by Hamish Gard, but on this form they will need to find something pretty special if they are to stay up in the top flight.
In the day’s other games, second place Kobe hammered Fukuoka Sanix Blues 52-7, Kyuden Voltex upset Ricoh Black Rams 29-28 and Toyota Verblitz downed Canon Eagles 34-26.