Kobe Kobelco Steelers and NTT Communications Shining Arcs drew 28-28 on Saturday at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground as the Japan Rugby Top League resumed after a five-week break.
A bizarre ending saw Kobe’s Ryohei Yamanaka (deliberate knock-on) and Andries Bekker (high tackle) both sent to the sin bin after the final hooter, allowing NTT one last chance to draw level.
Amanaki Lelei Mafi eventually touched down in the 85th minute and Jumpei Ogura held his nerve to land the conversion that saw the teams finish all square — to the delight of the NTT fans and anger of the supporters from Kobe.
“I guess Kobe will feel like that was a loss while we feel like it was a win,” NTT coach Rob Penney said of the different emotions in the changing sheds.
“We showed a lot of courage and persistence that we have not always shown in difficult situations. And it’s great to see that maturity come through.”
His Kobe counterpart, Jim McKay, was not quite as happy.
“We wanted to get four points from the game and at the end of the day we got two,” he said.
“We did a lot of good things but to be honest we were not accurate enough at pressure moments and that’s what let us down.”
Former Wallaby Adam Ashley-Cooper grabbed a brace of tries and Nick Ealey — currently in possession of the Steelers No. 10 jersey until the arrival of All Blacks legend Dan Carter in June — kicked four conversions from as many attempts as the Steelers ended a three-game losing skid.
The draw sees Kobe remain in second place in the Red Conference with 31 points. But they are just three points above the Toyota Verblitz, who take on the Coca-Cola Red Sparks on Sunday with the Shining Arcs a further three points back in fourth place.
In the first game of the doubleheader, Ricoh Black Rams kept up their hopes of a place in the playoffs to determine the league champion with a 34-12 win over NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes.
The victory leaves Ricoh in third spot in the White Conference with 34 points, one behind Yamaha Jubilo, who take on the Toshiba Brave Lupus on Sunday.
The Red Hurricanes, meanwhile, are sixth in the White Conference with 17 points.
Played on a dreadful surface that needed running repairs throughout from a team of 15 groundsmen, the Shining Arcs took an early lead through a penalty from Ogura, and added to it when Tasuku Koizumi went over in the 12th minute, following a good break from Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco.
Kobe hit back with Akihiro Shimizu benefitting from a superb delayed pass from Andy Ellis to cross the chalk in the 16th minute and Yamanaka touching down seven minutes later following a weaving run.
Ashley-Cooper’s brace (the second of which was the result of some lazy defending from Comms) came either side of halftime and in both cases followed penalties from Ogura as Kobe went 28-14 up with 46 minutes on the clock.
NTT closed the gap when a wayward pass from Ellis allowed Shane Gates to score a breakaway try. But the Steelers defense looked to have done enough to earn the win, only for the officials to intervene and set up the bizarre ending.
“We are still in the hunt (for a place in the playoffs) but we have to move on,” McKay said.