Kanto Gakuin University defended the National Collegiate Rugby Union Championship after beating Waseda University 21-16 on Saturday at Tokyo’s National Stadium.

Kanto Gakuin has played in the final for five consecutive years and won the title for fourth time.

“It was a good game and I very much enjoyed watching the game today,” a jubilant Kanto head coach Hiroshi Haruguchi said afterward.

“But Waseda was very tenacious. Before the game we were not paying too much attention to our defense and thought we would win the ball more at the line-outs, though.”

Playing before a crowd of 45,000, the college finale turned out to be a close battle with good defense and aggressive play.

Kanto took a 6-0 lead with two penalty goals from Chikashi Aramaki before Waseda replied through Masatoshi Takekawa’s penalty.

But in the 26th minute, Kanto center Junpei Enomoto got a pass from scrumhalf Tsubasa Haruguchi and scored a try. Aramaki successfully converted to give Kanto a 13-3 lead.

Waseda, seeking its first national title in 12 years, hung in the game well thanks to some fine play by its forwards.

The team rallied in the second half and leveled the score after a penalty in the 50th minute, winger Masanori Yamaoka’s try in the 55th minute and Takekawa’s conversion.

But Kanto No. 8 Satoshi Yamaguchi scored his team’s second try, after shaking off tackles from Waseda players in the 67th minute for a 21-13 lead.

With the clock winding down, Waseda managed to move within reach of Kanto when Takekawa converted his third penalty of the day, two minutes from time.

The Waseda backs then made a passing error at a crucial moment to end their chance.

Waseda had some good penalty opportunities early in the game but the team opted for try-scoring plays, which appeared to cost the team in the end.

Kanto lost its kicker Aramaki and then fly-half Yuki Imamura during the second half due to injuries.

But the team held together to the end to overcome what was supposed to be a disadvantage.

Kanto captain Yamaguchi said, “It was the toughest game for us this season. But we were probably a little bit cool-headed during the game. We also played and defended as a unit, which probably helped us win today.”

Waseda captain Yasuaki Sakyo noted, “They never lost their focus and never let the control away from them at crucial moments. That was the difference between the two sides.”

But Waseda head coach Katsuyuki Kiyomiya was optimistic, saying “Our players played very well. This game will become an asset for us and we can grow stronger. I’m convinced of that.”

Kanto Gakuin and Waseda will play in the season-ending Japan Championship from Jan. 20-Feb. 3, which features the top four teams from the National Company Championship — Suntory, Kobe Steel, Toyota and Kubota.

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