Ricoh moves atop Top League table, upsets Kobe 27-21

by Rich Freeman

The heaviest back in Japanese rugby, Masato Morishima (107 kg), and one of the most frightening sights on the paddock (a rampaging Ipolito Fenukitau) helped the Ricoh Black Rams go top of the Top League following their 27-21 win over the Kobe Kobelco Steelers at Tokyo’s Chichibunomiya on Saturday.

In an enthralling game Ricoh outscored last year’s champion four tries to three, thereby earning a bonus point and equaling its total number of wins of last season.

“It’s been a great collective effort,” said head coach Brian Smith.

“The key has been our defense, but Glen Panoho has done a great job with the forwards in the tight and Eroni Clarke has done wonders with the backs. The players are doing what we ask and we are not afraid of anyone anymore.”

That confidence was obvious from the beginning and it took just two minutes for the Black Rams to get on the scoreboard.

A well-worked back move saw Ryo Kanazawa in plenty of space and the wings momentum took him over the line in the tackle.

The Steelers responded with a try from former All Black Royce Willis before the Morishima-Fenukitau double act worked their magic — the center staying on his feet in the tackle following a switch move in midfield, allowing the Ricoh pack to regroup and drive the big Tongan No. 8 over for the first of his two tries.

Morishima was then harshly sin-binned for nothing more than a good tackle in the chest area and Kobe made use of its numerical advantage with Ron Cribb thinking quickly and running a penalty close to the Ricoh line, which resulted in a try for Takafumi Hirao as Kobe went into the break 14-12 in front.

However, one hero turned villain, while the other villain turned hero in the space of 10 minutes at the start of the second half.

First, Cribb was sin-binned for kicking the ball away, and then Morishima returned to the field to help his partner in crime, Fenukitau, score his second try from a perfectly worked move from the base of the scrum to make it 19-14.

Shoji Ito went over for Ricohs’ fourth try in the 68th minute after Hayato Daimons lazy clearance was charged down by Bryce Robins, and although Masakazu Takamoni added a third five-pointer for the Steelers, Kanazawa’s last-minute penalty ensured the win and the glory went to the Black Rams.

“We couldn’t control the ball at crucial times,” said Willis after the game. “But it’s early days yet.”

In the day’s other games, Suntory Sungoliath benefited from some extra tuition from Wallabies coach Eddie Jones as it recorded its first win of the season, beating IBM Big Blue 52-41 in a highly entertaining game, while Toyota Verblitz scored 28 second-half points at Osaka’s Hanazono Stadium to defeat the Sanyo Wild Knights 35-13 and Toshiba Brave Lupus trounced the Kintetsu Liners 69-26.