The Toshiba Brave Lupus juggernaut took the first step toward getting back on track as they opened their new Japan Rugby Top League season Saturday with a 20-0 win over the NEC Green Rockets.
To do so, however, Toshiba had to withstand a rare delay to proceedings on the way as a violent thunder and lightning storm hit Tokyo. Fans at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground were told to leave the open stands and the players remained in the changing sheds as the halftime break was extended to 90 minutes before it was deemed safe to return.
“We were constantly surveying the weather and kept both teams informed of the situation,” Top League commissioner Osamu Ota said of the break in play.
Toshiba had a dreadful 2016-17 season by its own high standards, finishing ninth having never previously finished outside the top three.
Tomohiro Segawa — who led the Japan sevens team to fourth place at the Rio Olympics — was brought back to replace outgoing head coach Teppei Tomioka and his influence has been immediate.
“It wasn’t a convincing win, but it was a step in the right direction,” said Toshiba No. 8 Michael Leitch.
“We were good in certain areas, in that we won, our defense was good and we opened them up in attack. But at the same time there are things to work on, such as our ability to hold onto the ball.”
The first half was a scrappy affair dominated by breaks for injuries and knock-ons, though the only try of the stanza was a beauty.
A kick ahead from NEC in the 14th minute was regathered by Toshiba fullback Coenraad van Wyk, who launched a counterattack from his own 22. The South African beat a number of would-be tacklers before passing to Takehisa Usuzuki, who had an easy run-in from 15 meters out.
The only other scores of the half were Takahiro Ogawa’s conversion and two penalties as Toshiba went into the break leading 13-0.
Following the intervention of Mother Nature and the extended break, the Green Rockets did themselves no favors by having two players sent to the sin bin in quick succession.
And the Brave Lupus took full advantage with Hiroshi Yamamoto going over from a rolling maul in the 51st minute.
Leitch, however, pointed out, “a good team should score at least two tries when the opposition is down to 13 men.”
With the rain never letting up, the remainder of the game became something of a mess as players found it hard to hold onto the ball and fans kept looking to the skies for the ever-present threat of lightning.
Sho Takenaka had a couple of decent breaks for the Green Rockets down the left wing. But his side’s indiscipline meant every time it got into the Toshiba 22 it was penalized and forced back into its own half, leaving head coach Peter Russell with plenty to think about.
“We didn’t complete what we wanted to in the first half and our defense was not good enough for the Top League,” he said.
“We fought back in the second half but lost a lot of opportunities to get back into the game. We had opportunities to score and need to learn how to put teams away.”
In the second game of the day’s doubleheader, which ended up being delayed an hour, the Panasonic Wild Knights proved too strong for the Kubota Spears running in six tries in a 45-21 win.