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Suntory and Kobe Steel will contest the 54th National Company Championship rugby final next Sunday at Hanazono Stadium, Osaka, following two very contrasting semifinals.

The all-Kansai game at Hanazono on Sunday was a close contest with the Steelers edging out Toyota 34-33, thanks to a penalty by Andy Miller in the fourth minute of injury time.

The win keeps the Kobe team on course for a third-successive championship, but it will have its work cut out if it is to beat Suntory, which justified its status as favorite with an emphatic 104-12 win over Kubota at Chichibunomiya Stadium.

Before the game Ashley Jones, who was fitness coach of the Suntory team three years ago, commented on the huge improvement he had seen in the skill levels and fitness levels of his former team. And so it showed on the day when Kubota was quite simply outclassed.

Suntory was not just fitter, but far more determined and hungry. “Our target is not just to beat Kobe Steel. Our target is to be the No. 1 team in Japan,” Suntory coach Masato Tsuchida said after the game.

Suntory captain Naoya Okubo, who had a storming game on the flank, agreed adding, “The final is to show who is best in Japan. I hope we can produce a performance that is worthy of that game.”

Suntory’s first try typified the afternoon. A poor clearance by Kubota allowed Suntory the chance to counter-attack. The ball was quickly recycled to the backs and winger Toru Kurihara broke a couple of tackles to score under the posts. Kurihara was to score a further three tries and add 12 conversions for a personal tally of 44 points on the day.

Suntory assistant coach Andy Friend commented after the game, “We have the best back three in Japan. I think they showed why today.”

Suntory played the style of rugby that helped it to defeat Wales in June, 2001 and Kubota had no answer to the open fluid game of its opponent.

Jamie Washington and Hirotaki Onozawa (the first of two for the fullback) both added tries before Alfie Uluinayau scored a try that again typified the difference between the two teams.

Having kicked ahead, the Kubota backs followed up very slowly and put little pressure on Onozawa, allowing the fullback time to reply with a long kick downfield. Suntory followed up in numbers and at pace, pressurizing the Kubota defense, and a charged-down kick allowed Uluinayau to score under the posts.

From there on in it was one-way traffic as Suntory ran in 16 tries, with Okubo being prominent in the loose and the Suntory players (both backs and forwards) being too strong and fast for their luckless opponents.

One of the biggest cheers of the day from the 16,000 people that braved the cold, came when Alama Iereima came off the bench with 30 minutes remaining. It was the first game back for the former All Black since having a full knee reconstruction following the game against Wales.

“I must improve my fitness, I was happy that the knee was 100 percent OK,” he said. “Kobe Steel have a lot of experience and have a number of big-time players so it will be a different story next week.”

Last year the two teams met twice with the Steelers winning 41-38 in the semifinal of the National Company Championship before the teams drew 27-27 in the final of the All Japan Championship.

Next week’s game promises to live up to the occasion.

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