The Suntory Sungoliath jumped above the Kobe Kobelco Steelers to head the Japan Rugby Top League’s Red Conference on Saturday thanks to a 36-11 victory over the NTT Communications Shining Arcs.
George Smith showed his full array of skills at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground to create two of Suntory’s six tries, while his teammates gave the Shining Arcs a lesson in how to make the most of the opportunities that come your way.
Defending champion Suntory has 19 points, one more than the Steelers and four more than the Toyota Verblitz, who beat the Toshiba Brave Lupus 23-18.
But such are the high standards at Suntory, which last lost a league game on Dec. 26, 2015, that the leadership was not best pleased despite the scoreline.
“It was a stressful game to watch because we couldn’t control the game,” said coach Keisuke Sawaki.
“Our attack was good but much of the game was played at NTT’s pace and that meant we couldn’t play our game. And that was down to our leadership group,” added captain Yutaka Nagare.
The Panasonic Wild Knights, meanwhile, maintained their perfect start to the season as they ran in 10 tries in a 64-17 drubbing of the Coca-Cola Red Sparks to head the White Conference with a maximum 20 points.
The Yamaha Jubilo are five points back in second thanks to a 35-12 victory over the Ricoh Black Rams.
Meanwhile, the newly promoted NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes picked up their second win of the season by downing the Munakata Sanix Blues 29-19, as did the Kubota Spears, who beat the Toyota Industries Shuttles 27-19, and the Kintetsu Liners, who kept the Canon Eagles winless, triumphing 25-20.
In Tokyo, a sixth-minute penalty by Jumpei Ogura gave NTT Comms an early lead.
But it was short lived as great hands from Jordan Smiler and a clever kick from Smith saw Chihito Matsui go over for his first Top League try.
Takaaki Nakazuru became the second recipient of Smith’s magic when he latched onto an offload from the Wallaby legend to cross in the 17th minute before NTT hit back with Takuya Ishibashi crossing the chalk following a series of turnovers.
The Shining Arcs should have added to Ishibashi’s score. But some poor decision making close to the line and some stout Suntory defense saw Sawaki’s team weather the storm. Something NTT was then unable to do as Kotaro Matsushima and Hendrik Tui touched down the next two times Sungoliath advanced into the NTT red zone to make it 22-8 at the break.
“I was pleased with a lot of what we did in the first half. But we gifted Suntory two tries with some unusual decisions in defense by our boys,” said NTT coach Rob Penney.
A second penalty from Ogura five minutes into the second stanza closed the gap.
But as in the first half, the Shining Arcs were unable to build on the momentum that seemed to swing their way — not helped by a succession of injuries to their props and a yellow card that resulted in uncontested scrums for 10 minutes.
“We created enough pressure but then let it off with a lost ball,” said Penney. “We played without luck and against Suntory you need luck to be competitive.”
And they were made to pay for their misfortune as man-of-the-match Tui and Matsushima both made it a brace of five-pointers for the evening as Suntory wrapped up the win and the bonus point.