The Top League claimed an impressive double scalp over Super Rugby on Sunday as NEC Green Rockets and Suntory Sungoliath beat the Waratahs and Brumbies, respectively, at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.
Two tries from Rio Olympian Teruya Goto and a key defensive play from Ryuta Iiyama helped NEC to their 29-26 win, while Hendrik Tui bagged a brace in the Top League champions’ 28-26 victory.
Dubbed the Chichibunomiya Friendship Match, the two games are part of the Minato Rugby Festival that promotes international exchange between Japan and Australia. And despite the nickname, both were physical encounters.
“We stuck to what we wanted to do,” said NEC coach Peter Russell. “That was to nullify their attack and build pressure around the breakdown and we did that well.”
In a game that had a fair bit of niggle, the Waratahs opened up an early 19-3 lead thanks to tries by Bryce Hegarty, Hugh Roach and Jake Gordon.
But with Maritino Nemani inspiring his teammates to raise the physicality of their game, NEC fought back and Goto’s first try — a good team effort — and a five pointer from Yosuke Usui made it 19-15 at the break.
Keisuke Yamada dived over for NEC’s third try three minutes into the second stanza before Goto scooped up a loose pass and used his searing pace to beat the cover defense to complete his double in the 56th minute.
A second try by Gordon ensured there was just three points between the teams as they headed into the final 10 minutes.
The Waratahs looked to have sealed the win with a breakout and kick ahead from their own line. But Iiyama raced back and secured the ball, and then used impressive strength to retain it until his teammates arrived to help clear their line.
The Green Rockets then used brain rather than brawn to secure the win.
“I was really pleased with our composure at the end,” said Russell. “We slowed things down and that was something we didn’t do last year. We are starting to learn what it is to play under pressure.”
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson praised the NEC effort.
“They were better than us. They put us under a lot of pressure and we made a lot of mistakes.”
In the second game of the doubleheader, in which the lead changed hands several times, Tui opened and closed the scoring for Suntory with Shota Emi and Daishi Murata also crossing the chalk.
The Brumbies responded through tries by James Verity-Amm (2), Lausii Taliauli and Christian Lealiifano as both teams played an exciting fast brand of rugby.
“Suntory like to play with ball in hand and at tempo and so do we. It was a great game to watch. I just wished we had won,” said Brumbies coach Dan McKellar.
His Suntory counterpart Keisuke Sawaki paid tribute to McKellar and Lealiifano, who was due to join Suntory in 2016 but had to pull out when he was diagnosed with leukemia.
“They are part of the Suntory family,” Sawaki said, adding that the game was a great chance for him to see where his team are positioned as they look to make it three straight Top League titles when the season kicks off on Aug. 31.