The Suntory juggernaut kept on rolling on Sunday at Toyko’s Chichibunomiya Stadium with a 52-24 win over Ricoh in the semifinal of the All Japan Championship. The Goliath, which is now unbeaten against Japanese opposition since January 2001, will face NEC in the final, following its surprise 29-5 victory over Toshiba Fuchu in the day’s other semifinal at Hanazono Stadium in Osaka.
On a bitterly cold and wet day, Suntory was still able to show off some of the running rugby that has made it the top team in Japan with seven of its eight tries scored by its backs, with Takashi Yoshida, in particular catching the eye with a hat trick. Fellow wing, Hirotoki Onozawa claimed two, while Hiroaki Ito, who also slotted over six conversions, Alfie Uluinayau and lock Takahiro Hiyano also got on the scoresheet.
But as Wallaby coach Eddie Jones admitted, Suntory will need to step up a gear before next week’s final at National Stadium.
“The conditions were difficult today,” said Jones, who acts as an adviser to the Suntory team, “so Suntory can be pleased with the result. But they will need to pick up their forward play before next week.”
The game started slowly with both sides taking time to adapt to the conditions and it was not until the 22nd minute that the scoreboard started ticking over when Onozawa crossed following a well-worked backline move.
Ricoh responded almost immediately with a gem of a try from Keigo Goto, following up two good breaks from fellow flanker Takuya Akabane and center Masahito Morishima, to bring the scores level. But it seemed the Ricoh players, and in particular its forwards, still had the 94-22 drubbing Suntory handed them earlier in the season on their minds, as they seemed hesitant in taking on the company champion up front.
Three tries from quick penalties either side of halftime effectively killed off the game as Suntory played to its strengths, running everything and letting its big men take the ball on at pace before releasing its highly effective back three, with Yoshida the main benefactor.
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