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The Ricoh Black Rams ensured they avoided one of the two automatic relegation spots from the Top League when they not only beat the Sanyo Wild Knights 45-15 at Tokyo’s Chichibunomiya on Saturday, but also earned a valuable bonus point in the process as a result of the seven tries they scored.

News photo
AGEN, France – Luc Laforgue of Agen tries to find a way through the Northampton defensive line during their Heineken
Cup Pool 4 game on Friday night. Northampton won 19-6.

The victory, built on a superb performance by their pack, doesn’t, however, mean the Black Rams are totally safe as they still face a playoff game to ensure they remain in the top flight of Japanese rugby, but their coaching staff will no doubt be delighted with the tremendous character shown by their players.

The back row of Kazunori Isooka, Keinosuke Ryu and Shoji Ito, each of whom scored a try, laid the foundations for the win and made sure that Sanyo, which finishes seventh in the league as a result, was never really in it despite a strong game from Philip O’Reilly at No. 8.

“This is the team’s 50th season and we knew that if we lost we were relegated,” said former All Black Glen Osborne. “We were playing for pride more than anything. We have lost four games in the last 10 minutes or so, but when our mind is right we go very well. We’ve got over the first step, now we have to complete the second part.”

In the first game of the day’s doubleheader, Yamaha Jubilo (fourth before Saturday’s game) beat the eighth-placed Kubota Spears 35-7 in a game in which the only thing on offer was a better seeding in the Microsoft Cup.

Quite what the watching Toutai Kefu, who is on a six-day visit to Japan to finalize his three-year contract with Kubota, was thinking as Waisake Sototu took advantage of a turnover in the second minute to break from under his own posts before putting Virimoni Delasau away to score Yamaha’s first try, remains to be seen. The former Wallaby vice-captain was kept under wraps by his new team, but he can’t have failed to notice that an inability to capitalize on its superior possession and field position throughout the game cost Kubota dearly.

“The game was closer than the score suggested,” said Kubota coach Matt O’Connor, who admitted he had rested a number of key players ahead of the Microsoft and Japan Cup games. “But that’s not an excuse. Yamaha converted their chances better than we did.”

Yamaha, for whom fullback Yohei Shinomiya was particularly impressive, has only lost once this season (to the Kobe Kobelco Steelers) and could have been challenging for top spot in the Top League were it not for some “lost” points in drawn games with Toshiba Brave Lupus and the NEC Green Rockets.

“We don’t know who we are playing in the cup,” said Yamaha coach Tabai Matson, “but we’ll concentrate on what we do best and take it week by week.”

Judging on its performances to date and its impressive defense, Matson’s team is one that many will be looking to avoid when the Microsoft Cup gets underway on Feb. 8.

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