Isaac Ross may not have played for his country since 2009 but he showed Friday just why New Zealand is revered as the best rugby nursery in the world and the All Blacks one of the most successful teams in sports.
The NTT Communications Shining Arcs lock showed off an assortment of skills — that are ingrained in all young boys growing up dreaming of wearing the famous black jersey — as he helped his side to a 33-15 Top League win over NEC Green Rockets.
While making sure to do what was expected of him in the tight during the 66 minutes he was on the field at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground — despite a shoulder injury — Ross also produced a few tricks that most players in his position (particularly in the Northern Hemisphere) wouldn’t even contemplate doing, let alone succeed in.
The 31-year-old treated the crowd to an inch-perfect kick pass that almost led to a try for Amanaki Lelei Mafi — the Japan No. 8 losing the ball as he tried to ground it.
A diving pass a la All Black great Dave Loveridge created quick ball from which Brackin Karauria-Henry scored NTT’s second try and there were some well-timed passes off both hands as Ross spent much of the game at first receiver.
“He’s always had a lot of skills. He’s a 10 wrapped in a lock’s body,” NTT coach Rob Penney said of his fellow countryman.
“In some quarters he has been criticized for not being physical enough. But the payoff is you get a player with a skill set unique for a lock. His gifts are far greater than smashing into rucks and people.”
On a warm, humid night in Tokyo, a slippery ball meant there were a number of handling errors. But it also gave both sides the opportunity to launch counter attacks as referee Akihisa Aso made good use of the advantage law.
The lead changed hands three times in the first half, with Daisuke Kurihara and Karauria-Henry crossing for NTT and Yu Tamura and Koichi Matsuura for NEC.
NTT flyhalf Jumpei Ogura — who has started the new season in really impressive form — kicked two conversions and two penalties and Tamura a penalty and a conversion as the Shining Arcs led 20-15 at the break.
Ogura extended the lead with penalties in the 47th and 67th minutes before some superb hands from Mafi and Kazushi Hano put Tasuku Koizumi away for the clinching try, converted once again by Ogura.