The 55th and final name to be engraved onto the trophy for the Company Clubs Rugby Football Championship will be that of Suntory following its 38-25 victory over Toshiba Fuchu at Tokyo’s National Stadium on Saturday.
The win, Suntory’s third in the competition, not only ensures that it will be the team to beat when the new Top League starts up in September but was a fitting reward for the high-risk rugby that so epitomizes the Sungoliath’s approach to rugby.
“I am very happy with the win,” said head coach Masato Tsuchida. “Toshiba’s defense was very strong but we just did enough to get the better of them. I think the substitutions we made changed the course of the game and allowed us to play the type of game we wanted.”
Fitness also had a big role to play as it was only in the final 20 minutes that Suntory was allowed to play the quick rucking game that it has developed.
The Toshiba players did everything they could to slow the ball down at the breakdown and wear Suntory down with a succession of rolling mauls but in the end they tackled and ran themselves to a standstill and late tries by Taishi Wakamatsu and Naoya Okubo put the icing on the cake for the defending champion.
“We tried to move them around and stay on our feet with a mauling game,” said Toshiba No. 8 Nick Holten. “But in the end we gave away too much ball and allowed Suntory to play their own game.”
Following an opening ceremony that included the match ball being dropped to the ground from a helicopter, the Suntory players, and in particular Hirotoki Onozawa, were quickest out of the blocks.
Quick hands from a ruck saw the ball in the winger’s hands and he left the Toshiba defense for dead as he sprinted over from 60 meters out to open the scoring in just the third minute.
Toru Kurihara added the first of four conversions on a day when kicking was made difficult by a swirling wind and was again on target in the 30th minute to add the extras after Alama Ieremia had powered over, showing the crowd of 22,000 the strength and power that had won him 30 caps for the All Blacks.
However, a penalty from Yasuhiko Ishikawa and tries from Tsuneo Yokoyama and Holten (the latter the result of an amazing 13-man maul from Toshiba close to the Suntory line) saw Toshiba back into the game and it took the lead on the stroke of halftime when Ishikawa crossed following a great line of running from former Japan full back Tsutomu Matsuda to go into the break 20-14 up.
Suntory, however, seemed unflustered. “We knew we hadn’t had any ball but that once we got it and got going the game would be ours,” said Ieremia after the game.
Lock Jamie Washington agreed saying the big match mentality gained from playing Wales and Saracens had given the side an extra degree of confidence.
“We are maturing as a team and know that even if we are behind we are always going to be fitter than the opposition,” he said. “That and our patience sees us get better the longer the game goes on.”
Two tries in the space of two minutes a third of the way into the second half, saw Suntory regain the lead it would never relinquish.
First, Hiroaki Ito sold two dummies and went over from 15 meters when there seemed nothing on for the fly half before Kurihara showed tremendous vision to take a short pass from the base of a ruck and sprint over from just inside his own half.
But the tackling had taken its toll on Toshiba and Okubo’s late try was the result of a huge overlap as Toshiba players lay scattered around the field. It was also a just reward for the captain.
“Okubo leads by example both on and off the field,” said Tsuchida. “The win is the result of the hard work put in by the 37 members of the squad but Okubo is the man they all look up to.”
Toshiba coach Masahiro Kunda praised the efforts of his team saying the result was disappointing but he was happy with the effort his players had put in.
However, at the end of the day it simply wasn’t enough to beat Suntory, whose players were quick to change into the grammatically suspect “We are the last champion” T-shirts before accepting the various trophies on offer.
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