YOKOHAMA – Two tries from debutant Ryuta Iiyama helped the NEC Green Rockets beat the Canon Eagles 25-20 in the Japan Rugby Top League on Saturday at Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium.
The victory sees NEC remain in fourth place in the White Conference, five points ahead of Canon with one round of the regular season remaining.
“Both teams were desperate for a win and in the end our tenacity came through,” said NEC coach Peter Russell.
This season the league has been split into two conferences of eight teams.
Teams play the seven other sides in their conference plus six from the other group to determine the rankings for the end of season playoffs, with the top four sides competing for the league title, which doubles as the All-Japan Championship.
There are three other playoff blocks to determine fifth to 16th positions with the bottom side automatically relegated.
The Panasonic Wild Knights, who take on the Ricoh Black Rams on Sunday, have already clinched the White Conference with 54 points from a possible 55.
Yamaha Jubilo strengthened their hold on second spot with a 40-5 win over the Munakata Sanix Blues to ensure they head into the final weekend of the regular season with 46 points, seven more than Ricoh, whic has a game in hand.
In the Red Conference, the Toyota Verblitz remained in second place thanks to a 22-15 win over the NTT Communications Shining Arcs.
The Verblitz have 42 points, five behind the Suntory Sungoliath and six more than the third-place Kobe Kobelco Steelers, who play the leaders Sunday.
Meanwhile, the NTT Red Hurricanes picked up their fifth win of the season with a 38-19 defeat of the Toyota Industries Shuttles. But such is the difference in strength between the two conferences they remain sixth — the same position the Shuttles hold in the White Conference after recording just one win.
In Yokohama, NEC laid siege to the Canon line right from the start.
But an inability to connect with the final pass meant the Green Rockets were not rewarded until the 21st minute when Iiyama finished off a counter-attack that started deep in the NEC half.
The score sparked Canon into life. But it was up against a well- organized defense and its only score of the half came through a penalty by JC Roos in the 33rd minute.
With the hooter having sounded, it looked like the teams would turn around at 10-3 with Yosuke Morita having added a penalty to his earlier conversion.
But Iiyama had other ideas as he made the most of a turnover to score from 70 meters out, beating three defenders for pace on the way to the try line.
“He took his opportunities well and finished,” Russell said of Iiyama. “We have a lot of confidence in the young guys coming through. They give us a fresh look. They (Canon) didn’t know who he was and it proved the point.”
Playing into a strong south-westerly wind in the second half, Canon closed the gap in the 57th minute when Hosea Saumaki powered over.
Yu Tamura’s conversion and a penalty from Ryohei Mitomo saw the gap reduced to two points before Amanaki Savieti crossed for NEC’s third try in the 72nd minute.
Morita added the conversion and a second penalty to ensure Richard Havili’s five-pointer two minutes from time was nothing more than a consolation for Canon in terms of the game.
However, Tamura’s conversion did ensure a bonus point, which could be crucial come next weekend when the final make-up of the playoffs is determined.
“We made too many mistakes and that meant we couldn’t execute our game plan,” said Canon coach Yuki Imamura, who according to reports from South Africa will be replaced next season by current Springbok coach Allister Coetzee.
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