• Kyodo


The defending Japan Rugby Top League champion Suntory Sungoliath picked up their seventh straight win Saturday as they topped Munakata Sanix Blues 45-0 at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.

Keisuke Sawaki’s side, which has not lost in the league since Dec. 26, 2015, made the most of Sanix’s ill discipline to run in seven tries with replacement wing Chihito Matsui bagging a second-half brace.

However, such are the lofty standards set by Suntory, Sawaki talked more of the negatives rather than the positives.

“We need to improve our line out, breakdown and set piece if we are to beat Toyota (Verblitz) and Panasonic (Wild Knights) in the next two weeks,” he said.

Sawaki’s side top the Red Conference with 34 points, six more than the Kobe Kobelco Steelers, who saw their unbeaten start to the season come to an end with a 31-26 defeat at the hands of the Canon Eagles.

Verblitz are third on 23 points after three penalties and a drop goal from Lionel Cronje helped them to a 12-6 win over the Ricoh Black Rams.

Panasonic heads the White Conference with a perfect 35 points thanks to a 32-3 win over the Toyota Industries Shuttles, who have yet to win this season.

The Wild Knights’ young backline excelled with Kenki Fukuoka, Yoshikazu Fujita, Iori Kaji and Kentaro Kodama all touching down to justify Robbie Deans’ decision to rest some of his more senior players.

Panasonic leads its group by 15 points over Ricoh and Yamaha Jubilo, who take on the NEC Green Rockets in Sunday’s only game.

In the day’s other games, the NTT Communications Shining Arcs won bragging rights as they defeated the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes 27-18 in the second game of a doubleheader in Tokyo to go fourth in the Red group.

The Kubota Spears picked up their third victory as they downed the Kintetsu Liners 28-14, as did the Toshiba Brave Lupus, who edged Coca-Cola 33-24 to keep the Red Sparks winless.

Overnight rain created a slippery playing surface and ball at Chichibunomiya, and it took both sides some time to settle into any rhythm as handling errors dominated the early proceedings.

Sanix flyhalf Hiroshi Tashiro hit the crossbar with a long-range effort in the 13th minute before two yellow cards in the space of two minutes changed the course of the game.

“It’s obviously not good to give away yellow cards but I can’t fault the players as they were showing fighting spirit,” Sanix coach Yuichiro Fujii said.

Blues center Bryce Robins and flanker Shohei Shitayama were both sent to the sin bin by Scottish referee Keith Allen and in their absence, Suntory took the lead.

Yusuke Aoki rumbled over from a well-constructed driving maul in the 22nd minute before Kensuke Hatakeyama added a second try six minutes later.

Sanix tried to fight its way back into the game, but Suntory’s speed off its defensive line meant the Blues were more often than not going backwards even when it had ball in hand.

With Sanix’s stock further depleted when former England lock Geoff Parling went off with a concussion, Suntory increased its lead just before the break with George Smith going over from a scrum five meters out.

Sanix continued to give away penalties in the second half, though it has to be said both sides seemed to struggle with Allen’s interpretation of the laws.

“It’s an issue we need to address,” Sanix assistant coach Carlos Spencer said of his team’s discipline. “In the first half when we stuck to our structures, we defended well though it doesn’t help playing with 13 or 14 against a side like Suntory. But in the second half we gave them too much respect.”

Matsui earned man-of-the-match honors for his brace and he was joined on the scoresheet by Hendrik Tui and Kotaro Matsushima, with Matt Giteau adding three conversions and Ryoto Nakamura one on top of Kosei Ono’s first-half effort as Suntory laid down a marker that it will not give up the title without a fight.

“We are very happy to shut them out,” Suntory assistant coach Peter Hewat said. “Our focus the last few weeks has been to improve our defense as that will be vital as we head into two tough games as well as further on in the season.”

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