Rugby

Panasonic pounds Honda, moves closer to clinching playoff berth

Kyodo

The Panasonic Wild Knights maintained their unbeaten run in the Japan Rugby Top League with a 41-12 victory over the Honda Heat on Saturday at Nishikyogoku Athletic Stadium.

Veteran scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka was at the heart of the Panasonic effort, forcing a number of turnovers and dictating the pace of the game in wet slippery conditions, as Robbie Deans’ side ran in seven tries to all but wrap up its spot in the playoffs.

However, the Wild Knights will have to wait at least another day, and possibly another week, to mathematically confirm their place after the Kubota Spears upset the Ricoh Blacks Rams 22-16.

Panasonic heads the White Conference with 22 points, three more than Yamaha Jubilo, who beat the Toshiba Brave Lupus 27-7.

Ricoh is third on 15 points, Kubota a point behind in fourth and Toshiba fifth on 11 points.

If the Canon Eagles (sixth with 7 points) fail to record a bonus-point win on Sunday against the Coca-Cola Red Sparks, then Panasonic will secure its place with two weeks to spare.

In the day’s only game in the Red group, the Toyota Verblitz hammered bottom side Munakata Sanix Blues 52-7 to leave Jake White’s side top ahead of Sunday’s four league games.

The Verblitz have 18 points, the Kobe Kobelco Steelers have 15, with the Suntory Sungoliath, Toyota Industries Shuttles and NTT Communications Shining Arcs all on 12.

Played in heavy, and at times torrential, rain, the Wild Knights got out to a 19-0 lead inside 21 minutes thanks to tries by Daniel Heenan, Harold Vorster and Atsushi Sakate, the first and third of which came from well-constructed rolling mauls.

However, Honda hit back with Lomano Lava Lemeki first creating a try for Nobutaka Ubukata before scoring a superb individual effort himself to make it 19-12 at the break.

Sakate, who was leading Panasonic for the first time, added a second early in the second half from yet another lineout close to the Honda line, before Vorster also made it a brace with a weaving run in the 56th minute.

Further tries came from Ryuji Noguchi and Yuji Shimogama with Takuya Yamasawa ending the day with three conversions.