The inaugural Microsoft Cup final to be played at Tokyo’s National Stadium on Feb. 22 will be an all-Kanto affair following Sunday’s two semifinals.
At Hanazono Stadium in Osaka, two tries from Semisi Saukawa helped NEC pull off a major surprise as the Green Rockets beat the Top League champion Kobe Kobelco Steelers 34-10, while at Tokyo’s Chichibunomiya, the Toshiba Brave Lupus needed a penalty in the third minute of injury time to beat the Sanyo Wild Knights 36-34.
The Steelers had beaten the Green Rockets on the last day of the Top League season to ensure they walked away with the silverware, but the Kobe-based team seemed to have run out of puff and had no answer to a determined NEC outfit, which outscored the champion six tries to one.
The game in Tokyo was a far closer affair.
With eight minutes left on the clock and Toshiba trailing by eight points, coach Masahiro Kunda played his last trump card and brought on Hidetaka Shinagawa. The diminutive flyhalf responded by scoring within five minutes to set up a grandstand finish.
Four minutes of injury time helped the Brave Lupus’ cause and with a minute remaining Daisuske Hihara slotted over his fifth successful kick of the afternoon to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
“The team was in a bad way when we were behind by eight points,” said Kunda. “I thought Shinagawa’s speed and movement would help lift them.”
Sanyo had made the most of a sloppy start from Toshiba and George Naoupu crossed for the first try of the game after just 90 seconds.
With Toshiba’s forwards unable to exert their authority on the game and the Sanyo team looking to utilize every bit of turnover ball that came their way, the game opened up with the lead changing hands on at least half a dozen occasions.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.