Rugby fans in Tokyo found out on Saturday what Tongans and New Zealanders have known for years — just how inspirational a player Inoke Afeaki is.
Saturday’s Top League game against the Sanyo Wild Knights at Kobe Wing Stadium.
The Tongan captain led from the front, scoring two tries, as the Secom Rugguts just edged out the Fukuoka Sanix Bombs 34-28 at Chichibunomiya in a game that virtually assured Sanix would be one of the two teams automatically relegated from the Top League at the end of the season.
“That’s our season pretty much done,” said Sanix center Reuben Parkinson. “We really needed to stay up a season to gain the big-game experience we are missing, but it’s not to be.”
However, even Afeaki would be the first to agree that it took a superb tackle from Kazuhiko Yusa and a huge piece of luck to ensure victory for the Rugguts.
Secom was apparently in control at 34-21 with 10 minutes left to play when Sanix wing Terumitsu Oba scored his side’s fourth try to set up a grandstand finish.
With time running out, Sanix looked to spin the ball wide but a huge hit by Yusa on his opposite number — that would have brought a smile to teammate Brian Lima, known the world over for his aggressive tackling — resulted in the ball being spilled. However, Sanix regrouped and Oba split the Secom midfield defense wide open only to drop the ball a meter short of the line with not a defender in sight.
“I feel for them,” said Afeaki after the game. “They deserved the try but that’s the way the game goes.”
The game had started with Sanix taking control and taking an early 14-3 lead, thanks in part to a tireless performance from flyhalf Damien Karauna, who showed why he was such a valuable member of the New Zealand sevens team.
However, the Secom forwards, led by Afeaki, slowly got themselves into the game, and their domination served to boost the confidence of the Rugguts’ backs.
The game turned shortly after halftime when Sanix was penalized five times in the opening four minutes and Afeaki crossed for the first of his two tries as the pack rolled over from a lineout five meters out.
At 34-21 Secom should have buried the game but played to Sanix’s strength by spinning the ball wide rather than attacking the fringes, which had worked so well for the first 60 minutes of the game.
The finish was just what the crowd wanted but in the end it was heartbreak for the Bombs.
“That’s rugby,” said Sanix coach and former All Black Aaron Pene. “We lost the game earlier than in the last minute and all credit to Secom, but I am proud of the way we attacked from start to finish.”
In the day’s other games the Kobe Kobelco Steelers ensured they stay top of the table by beating the Sanyo Wild Knights 53-21 at Kobe Wing Stadium; the World Fighting Bull defeated the Kubota Spears 37-21 in Kobe; while Suntory Sungoliath, for whom Takashi Yoshida rounded off his hat trick of tries with a sensational 80-meter solo effort, beat the NEC Green Rockets 32-17 to go second above Toshiba Brave Lupus, which takes on the Ricoh Black Rams in Tochigi on Tuesday.