The NTT Communications Shining Arcs survived some nerve-racking moments Saturday to grab the eighth and final spot in the playoffs to determine the Japan Rugby Top League champions.
Having overcome a stuttering start, a last-minute try from Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco guaranteed the Shining Arcs a bonus point as they beat the Munakata Sanix Blues 31-12 at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground. But Rob Penney’s side still had to wait and see if it could be overtaken by the NEC Green Rockets for fourth spot in the Red Conference.
“Our goal was a bonus-point win. We did our part and we will have to wait and see,” NTT Comms game captain Willie Britz said following the game, before Penney brought a smile to his face with an update from the NEC vs. Kobe Kobleco Steelers match, adding, “Job done.”
Penney’s confidence was in part due to a player he formerly coached in Canterbury, New Zealand.
Dan Carter kicked 13 points and Rakuhei Yamashita and Ryohei Yamanaka both touched down three times as the Steelers beat NEC 48-31 to ensure Kobe finished unbeaten and top of the Red group and the Green Rockets finished outside the top four.
Kobe will play Ricoh in the major playoffs after the Black Rams finished their pool campaign with a 40-36 defeat to Yamaha Jubilo to finish fourth in the White Conference.
That victory ensured Yamaha finished top of the White group and it will play NTT Comms for a place in the final four.
Suntory Sungoliath finished runners-up to Kobe thanks to a 50-12 win over the Hino Red Dolphins that lifted the two-time defending champions to 26 points, equal with Toyota Verblitz, who beat the Toyota Industries Shuttles 31-20.
However, Keisuke Sawaki’s side won six games, one more than Jake White’s side, meaning Suntory will next play Kubota Spears, who finished third in the White group following their 50-12 drubbing of the Coca-Cola Red Sparks.
Panasonic Wild Knights finished runners-up to Yamaha in the White Conference thanks to a 25-6 win over the Canon Eagles and they will now take on Verblitz.
The Honda Heat meanwhile beat the Toshiba Brave Lupus 45-26 to ensure they play Sanix in the first round of the ninth- to 16th-place playoffs.
The other games in the minor playoffs see NEC play Coca-Cola, Toyota Industries up against Canon and Hino versus Toshiba.
In Tokyo, Sanix made the most of a poor start from NTT to take an early lead through Yusuke Hamazato.
But, with their forwards eventually settling down, tries from Ryo Miura and Warren-Vosayaco saw the Shining Arcs take a 14-7 lead at halftime.
“It was our first 11:30 (a.m.) kickoff (of the season) and that caused us a few problems, and going against a side with no points in the competition, our motivation was not where it needed to be,” Penney said of the poor start.
Further five-pointers from Atsushi Yumoto and Yuki Ishii saw Penney’s side stretch their lead before James Moore’s effort eight minutes from time saw NTT needing a fifth score if they were to get a bonus point — forcing the Green Rockets to do the same against the Steelers.
Warren-Vosayaco duly obliged by powering over for his second of the afternoon just before the final hooter to give Penney and his side more reason to feel confident as they awaited the result from Kobe.
The league now goes into recess for the November test matches, with the first round of the playoffs taking place on Dec. 1.
However, the 16 sides will be in action — albeit without any of their internationals — in the pool stage of the newly created Top League Cup, which begins Nov. 10.