The 55th and final Company Clubs Rugby Football Championship will be contested between Toshiba Fuchu and Suntory following two tight semifinals on Sunday. At Hanazono Stadium, Osaka, Toshiba beat Ricoh 21-14, while Suntory beat NEC 35-23 at Chichibunomiya Stadium, Tokyo.
The two teams have already met this year in the Kanto League with Suntory showing amazing resilience to fight back from 38-5 down to eventually win the game 45-38. With the final being played at the National Stadium next Saturday, the Japan Rugby Football Union will be hoping for a similar game as the amateur era comes to an end.
Two-time champion Suntory was pushed hard by NEC, who showed tremendous tenacity in defense, but a change of gear by its forwards in the second half eventually proved the difference between the two sides.
“Our set play in the scrums and line outs let us down,” said NEC assistant coach Tom Barker. “We stayed competitive throughout but had too little ball. To beat Suntory you need to attack well and out-attack them.”
NEC went ahead in the 12th minute when Keichi Shirahama sprinted over from 35 meters following an initial break by George Konia and quickly recycled ruck ball. The fullback converted his own try from the touchline — a sign of things to come as not a single kick at goal was missed all day.
The message from the NEC bench was to make sure the next score was an NEC one. However, Suntory was not following the script and Shinki Gen powered over three minutes later. The try epitomized Suntory’s 15-man game as backs went into a ruck to secure possession before lock Takahiro Hiyano and No. 8 Naoya Okubo turned up in the backline to set Gen up for his try, which was converted by Toru Kurihara.
NEC regained the lead when Shirahama was on target with a penalty from 40 meters out but then spent the rest of the half defending as Suntory sought to run the ball from all corners of the field. Three kickable penalties were turned down as Suntory continued with its high-risk approach — though they were helped by a number of forward passes that were completely missed by the referee.
When Shirahama was on target again five minutes into the second half from 45 meters out, it seemed that Suntory may live to regret not taking shots at goal but sustained pressure was eventually rewarded when Hirotaki Onozawa went over for a try following a quick penalty close to the NEC line.
Shirahama restored NEC’s lead in the 53rd minute with a third penalty but the Suntory pack were beginning to gain the upperhand.
In the 58th minute Onozawa made the most of a missed NEC tackle, going over for his second try before Kiyonori Tanaka stretched over from a ruck close to the line. Kurihara converted both tries as Suntory stretched out to a 28-16 lead.
NEC almost got back into it but Takashi Tsuji didn’t quite have the legs to run in a 60-meter interception and Tanaka dealt the killer blow going over for his second two minutes from the end.
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