Panasonic Wild Knights showed just why they are the defending Top League champions Sunday as they hammered Toshiba Brave Lupus 50-15 in the second LIXIL Cup semifinal to set up a final clash with Yamaha Jubilo.
Most had expected the two semifinals to be close affairs but recent history was thrown out of the window as Panasonic avenged its two losses to Toshiba earlier this season in the same way Yamaha had made up for its previous defeat to Kobe Kobelco Steelers the day before.
“It was a special performance from these blokes and they can be very proud of their effort,” said Panasonic coach Robbie Deans. “Toshiba had given us two lessons this year so we knew we had to play particularly well to get the result we wanted.”
On a sunny day at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, the Wild Knights rose to the occasion in spectacular fashion — none more so than veterans Seiichi Shimomura, Daniel Heenan, Shota Horie and You Young-nam.
Shimomura was outstanding both in defense and attack, Heenan ruled the lineouts and, along with You, set the tone for Panasonic’s physical approach at the breakdown, while Horie did things with ball in hand that no front-row forward should ever be thinking — let alone doing.
“In big games you need your experienced and big game players to stand up and that’s what we witnessed today,” said Deans.
Panasonic also benefited from having two of the best finishers in the league in Akihito Yamada and Tomoki Kitagawa.
Kitagawa grabbed a first-half brace of five-pointers thanks to a basketball-style pass from Horie and a superbly weighted kick from Shimomura, while Yamada scored one of the tries of the season that began with a superb defensive read by Shimomura, a great take from Heenan in the line-out and a masterful offload from Berrick Barnes.
Tadasuke Nishihara crossed in the first minute, Heenan was rewarded for his efforts with a try seven minutes from time, while Barnes banged over five conversions and five penalties from as many attempts.
“We prepared well but Panasonic prepared better. They took it to us in the first 20 minutes and we started to panic and make mistakes and you can’t make mistakes in big games,” said Toshiba head coach Teppei Tomioka.
With just a Francois Steyn penalty to its name in the first half, Toshiba trailed 37-3 at the break, ensuring the second half was basically a meaningless affair.
Hiroki Yuhara barged his way over a pile of bodies and the Toshiba pack forced a penalty try, but the fact that Heenan was able to score while Keita Inagaki was in the sin bin summed up just how strong Panasonic was.
“There was real clarity from the leadership group and the players knew what they had to do and were up for it,” said Deans. “And the good thing is we weren’t one dimensional. We didn’t just concentrate on defense. We were prepared to attack, and to score off opportunities as quickly as we did put pressure on Toshiba and forced them to try and play another way.”
Meanwhile, in the wild-card tournament between the sides finishing fifth to 12th in the league — to determine which two teams advance to the All-Japan Championship — there were upset wins for NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes and NEC Green Rockets.
Docomo topped Toyota Verblitz 36-27, while NEC edged Canon Eagles 14-10. The two victors will play each other next week for one spot in the season-ending tournament with Suntory Sungoliath and Ricoh Black Rams vying for the other.
Honda seals return
Fukuoka — The Honda Heat clinched their return to the Top League on Sunday with a 17-15 win over Kyuden Voltex at Fukuoka’s Level-5 Stadium in the final day of the Top Challenge 1 series.
Although they did not manage a third-straight bonus-point win, the Heat finished with 14 points from three games to easily lead the four-team competition and seal a spot in the Top League for the first time since the 2011-2012 season.
Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars Kamaishi collected two bonus points in their 27-26 loss to Kamaishi Seawaves to finish second with seven points and earn a relegation-promotion playoff game on Feb. 14 against Toyota Industries Shuttles, who finished 15th this season.
Feb. 14 will also see Voltex (six points) take on the 14th-place Coca-Cola Red Sparks with a place in the Top League on the line. Kamaishi Seawaves earned five points on Sunday with the help of a try from Japan international Hayden Hopgood. The Seawaves’ playoff opponent will be established Top League side Kubota Spears.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5