The Top League winners’ pennant will fly over a familiar training ground from the week after next after three-time champions Panasonic Wild Knights and five-time league winners Toshiba Brave Lupus advanced to the LIXIL Cup final.
Two-time defending champion Panasonic beat Kobe Kobelco Steelers 42-10 at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground on Saturday, while Toshiba downed Yamaha Jubilo 34-22 at Osaka’s Hanazono Stadium.
Both sides were indebted to New Zealanders for their wins.
A week after landing 10-from-10, Panasonic flyhalf Hayden Parker continued his superb form with the boot, kicking six penalties and three conversions from as many attempts and also slotting over a drop goal, while former All Black Richard Kahui grabbed a hat trick of tries for Toshiba.
“As I just told the team, that was a really clinical performance,” said Panasonic coach Robbie Deans. “Kobe are a side that like to squeeze the life out of you and we kept them at arms’ length. In the end, the scoreboard flattered us but I am really pleased the way the team went about things.”
Elsewhere, Canon Eagles will play Toyota Verblitz for fifth spot next week, following wins over Kintetsu Liners and NTT Communications Shining Arcs, respectively.
Canon held on for a 24-18 victory while Verblitz triumphed 32-21.
In the games to determine the lower rankings, Suntory Sungoliath topped Honda Heat 45-14, and will play Toyota Industries for the ninth spot after the Shuttles beat Kubota Spears 30-19.
Coca-Cola Red Sparks upset NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes 39-21 and will play Ricoh for the 13th spot following the Black Rams’ 31-5 win over NEC Green Rockets.
The teams finishing 13th to 16th face a further game against the top four regional sides to determine whether they remain in the top flight next season.
In Tokyo, the Steelers enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and territory early on. But they were up against a resolute defense, and Parker put Panasonic 3-0 up with a penalty against the run of play in the 12th minute.
The Kiwi flyhalf then repeated the trick in the 17th, 22nd and 40th minutes as the Wild Knights picked up points every time they got the opportunity, to lead 12-0 at the break.
“Playoffs are all about playing the big points,” said Kobe coach Allister Coetzee. “We put them under a massive amount of pressure in the first 20 minutes, but unfortunately we couldn’t show any reward for that pressure.”
Yasutaka Sasakura increased the lead five minutes into the second half following an inch-perfect kick pass from Parker and a superb flying take by JP Pietersen.
The conversion may have been from the touchline but Parker’s radar and left boot were in superb form and the extras made it 19-0.
Kobe briefly got back into the game with Matt Vant Leven crossing for a try and Hideki Tanabe adding the conversion and a penalty.
But there was no stopping Parker as he added a fifth penalty before setting up Pietersen for Panasonic’s second try in the 65th minute.
The flyhalf then kicked the conversion, slotted a smart drop goal, added the extras to Sasakura’s second try and finished the game off with yet another penalty.
“Once again it came down to a good forward game from Panasonic,” said Parker. “The key was the kicking game. We kicked out of our half and then forced them to give away penalties in their half and I was lucky to come away with the points.”
Coetzee was also under no illusions as to where the game was won and lost.
“There is nothing you can do when you are up against a polished 10 like Parker except keep discipline and be whiter than white and he capitalized on our ill discipline,” he said.