The Kobe Kobelco Steelers were crowned the inaugural champions of the Top League, when they defeated the NEC Green Rockets 31-21 at Kobe Wing Stadium on Sunday.
Veteran national team members Daisuke Ohata and Takeomi Ito both scored two tries for Kobe but the Steelers needed the result at Tokyo’s Chichibunomiya to go their way if they were to win the new professional league.
Going into the day level on points with Suntory Sungoliath, the Steelers knew, having lost to Suntory on the opening day of the season, that their fate was in the hands of Toshiba Brave Lupus.
A win and bonus point for Suntory would have sealed the championship for the Fuchu-based team but Toshiba produced its best performance of the year to hand Suntory its heaviest defeat in years, winning 50-10, thereby ensuring that Kobe will be presented the award when the teams gather for an awards ceremony Thursday in Tokyo.
At the other end of the table the Kintetsu Liners scored a penalty in the third minute of injury time to beat the Fukuoka Sanix Bombs 45-42. The result means Sanix is automatically relegated along with the Secom Rugguts, who were beaten 36-10 by the World Fighting Bull.
In the two playoff games to decide which teams play in the Top League next season, to be played on Feb. 7, Kintetsu, which finished tenth will face Kyushu Denryoku, while the Ricoh Black Rams (ninth) will play Toyota Industries.
Suntory’s bad day began as early as the opening minute when a big hit by Nicholas Holten on Jamie Washington put the Suntory lock in ga-ga land.
Although he played on for 40 minutes Washington had little impact on the game and still didn’t realize long after the final whistle that he had spent 10 minutes of the first half in the sin-bin, along with Holten, for nothing more than a little bit of handbag swinging and certainly nothing as serious as the punch-up 20 minutes later — when even some replacements joined in — that was completely ignored by the officials.
Deprived of its No. 1 source of line-out ball, the Suntory pack was always playing second fiddle to the Toshiba forwards, who to a man were outstanding, and although it was the Toshiba backs who dominated the scoreboard, scoring seven of its eight tries, the hard work was done up front.
Time and time again the Toshiba pack turned over Suntory ball and by recycling quick ball the backs were able to utilize their speed out wide.
“The two teams play different styles,” said Holten. “We try to stay on our feet and keep the ball alive and today was our best game by far this season.”
Suntory, seemed out of sorts — “A bad day at the office,” said center Alama Ieremia — and although it turned around at halftime 12-10 down, it was blown apart by 38 unanswered points in the second half.
“I wasn’t too worried about what was happening in Kobe at first,” said Toshiba captain Teppei Tomioka. “But when we started scoring all those points, I wanted to know if we had a chance. But the bench wouldn’t tell me the Kobe score.”
As it was, Kobe had done enough and the Steelers will no doubt be having a few beers in honor of the Toshiba boys, who ended up second in the table as a result of Sunday’s events. It would be ironic, to say the least, if it was Malts they were drinking.
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