It takes a really special occasion to wear a T-shirt with a business suit, and Sunday was just that for Toshiba Electric.
In the wake of the team’s 6-0 win over the Sanyo Wild Knights, Toshiba’s top corporate managers, including 60-year-old president Norio Sasaki, slipped custom-made T-shirts over their suits, commemorating the team’s fifth Top League Playoff Tournament Final victory, earned Sunday before 18,000 fans at Tokyo’s Prince Chichibu Rugby Stadium.
The shirt said it all in a word: “Champions!”
“I am very grateful we could give such a wonderful effort for our supporters,” said Toshiba head coach Tomohiro Segawa. “Above all, both teams showed the best aspects of rugby today.”
As indicated by the score, it was a tight game. Defense ruled the day in the first game in Top League finals history where neither team scored a try. Toshiba fly-half David Hill, last season’s MVP, scored the game’s lone points, on a pair of penalty kicks.
Early on, Toshiba scrum-half Tomoki Yoshida set the table for Hill’s first strike, capitalizing on a crack in Sanyo’s defense. Yoshida spread the ball wide, applying pressure on Sanyo, which ultimately yielded offside in the ruck. That earned Toshiba its first penalty kick in the 10th minute.
Toshiba had the edge in attack in the first half, with very tight defense systems in place on both sides. Sanyo flanker Yu Young Nam, who also plays for the South Korean national team, and number 8 Ryu Kolianisi Holani showed outstanding physicality at the breakdown.
Hill got the second penalty in the final minute of the first half, playing advantage from Sanyo’s offside at a rolling maul near Sanyo’s tryline, putting Toshiba ahead at the half by the final margin.
Sanyo stepped up its attack in the second half, relying more on power from its forwards in mauling.
With 10 minutes remaining, Sanyo intensified its attack, culminating in a penalty for not rolling away in a maul dangerously close to Toshiba’s tryline. Sanyo’s fly-half and former All Black Tony Brown opted to kick the ball to touch, bringing the team to one final, intensive attack just a few feet away from the score line.
Seven minutes before full-time, Toshiba hooker Hiroki Yuhara was sin-binned for repeated infringement, but this did not change the final outcome: Sanyo’s attack could not match Toshiba’s defense.
“We knew that Toshiba’s breakdown was very strong, but this was more than we expected,” game captain Holani said. “It was too hard to break their defense. All members did their best today, but Toshiba was stronger than us.”
Unbeaten during the regular season, Sanyo seemingly trailed before the first minute Sunday, facing setbacks after an outbreak of flu kept both captain Seiichi Shimomura and wing Tomoki Kitagawa, Sanyo’s main scoring threat, away from the game.
Meanwhile, substitute scrum-half Atsushi Takayasu had to pull out on game day with flulike symptoms.
Playing short-handed had a familiar feel, however, because Tony Brown missed most of last year’s final, having just returned to the game after a life-threatening injury of a ruptured pancreas.
Sanyo head coach Hitoshi Iijima did not make any excuses for the loss.
“All players did their best and I am very proud of them,” Iijima said. “All players played at their full strength. I just regret I couldn’t prepare them better.”
In the end, Toshiba earned the right to celebrate.
“This whole year we worked with one aim in mind: to give our fans a reason to celebrate with all their hearts at the end,” Toshiba captain Toshiaki Hirose said. “And we also wanted to be able to throw coach Segawa in the air.”
Hirose’s dreams came true this season. Last year, off-field theft and drug scandals overshadowed Toshiba’s victory as teammates Vivili Iongi and Christian Loamanu earned indefinite bans from Japanese rugby for their behavior.
This year, victory tastes sweeter and the skies are clear.
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