NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes discovered Saturday that signing high profile players on short-term contracts doesn’t guarantee a turnaround in fortune as they finished bottom of the Top League following a 32-22 defeat to NEC Green Rockets at Komazawa Olympic Park.
Fortunately for Masahiro Shimooki and his team, the shortened season — as a result of the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the Sunwolves’ entry into Super Rugby — means they are not automatically relegated.
But they will need to be at their best next week if they are to beat the winners of the Top Challenge Series — the playoff tournament for the top three regional champions and best runners-up—and stay in the top flight.
Munakata Sanix Blues currently head the TCS and should finish in No. 1 spot as they play bottom side Osaka Police on Sunday, while the game between Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars and Kyuden Volex is likely to determine who finishes second.
NEC (15th in the Top League) will play the winner of that game and Coca-Cola the loser.
In the second game of the day’s doubleheader at Komazawa, the Red Sparks lost out on 13th spot as they went down 27-22 to Ricoh Black Rams, who — barring a huge upset — will take on the police next week.
Further up the table, Toyota Verblitz beat Canon Eagles 48-17 for fifth spot, while Kintetsu Liners finished seventh after edging NTT Communications Shining Arcs 22-17 in the first ever playoff game to go to extra time.
Springbok legend Fourie du Preez’s final game as a professional lasted just 13 minutes, but he scored a try in that time as Suntory Sungoliath downed Toyota Industries 78-14 for ninth spot, while newly promoted Honda Heat topped Kubota Spears 45-38 to finish 11th.