Matt Giteau’s Suntory Sungoliath and Dan Carter’s Kobe Kobelco Steelers will play for the Japan Rugby Top League crown after winning their respective semifinals Saturday in Tokyo and Osaka.
Giteau kicked a 42-meter penalty in the fifth minute of sudden-death extra time — just the second time the format had been used in a top-level game in Japan — to clinch a 28-25 victory over Yamaha Jubilo at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.
The match-winning kick came after the former Wallaby created two of Seiya Ozaki’s three tries, while also kicking two conversions and two penalties.
“We only got told it would be golden point when we were in the huddle (before extra time started),” Suntory lock Joe Wheeler said.
Nevertheless, teammate Hendrik Tui was under no illusions as to whether Giteau would make the kick.
“I knew he’d kick it,” the Japan flanker said. “He’s always staying on and kicking at training.”
Carter also had his kicking boots on as he led Kobe to its first-ever playoff final with a 31-19 win over Toyota Verblitz at Hanazono Rugby Stadium.
The three-time World Player of the Year scored a try, banged over four penalties and two conversions, and set up the clinching score for Fraser Anderson with a clever stab-through off the outside of his boot.
The Steelers were the inaugural Top League champions in 2003-04 when the title was decided simply on the round-robin format, while Suntory has won the title five times in total.
The final, which also doubles as the All-Japan Championship final, will be played at Chichibunomiya on Dec. 15, the same day the final rankings will be determined.
The Panasonic Wild Knights and NTT Communications Shining Arcs will battle it out for fifth spot following victories over th eRicoh Black Rams and Kubota Spears, respectively.
Panasonic came from behind to beat Ricoh 35-26, while NTT topped Kubota 36-13.
The NEC Green Rockets will play the winner of Sunday’s match between the Canon Eagles and Honda Heat for ninth spot following their 47-26 victory over the Toshiba Brave Lupus.
The Hino Red Dolphins, meanwhile, will take on the winners of Sunday’s game between the Toyota Industries Shuttles and Munakata Sanix Blues for 13th place after they beat the Coca-Cola Red Sparks 40-36 on Saturday.
Knowing Kobe had already booked a place in the final, Suntory made the perfect start under lights in Tokyo when Ozaki finished a good break by Giteau in the second minute.
Takeshi Hino closed the gap when he was pushed over by his pack in the 13th minute as Yamaha managed to counter Suntory’s pace by taking a more direct route.
The ploy worked again six minutes later when Yuya Odo crossed for Yamaha’s second try as Jubilo went 12-7 on the back of Ayumu Goromaru’s conversion.
Giteau made it a two-point game with a penalty before he was forced to leave the field in the 29th minute with a head injury and Yamaha took full advantage of his absence.
Goromaru kicked a penalty and then added the extras to a try by Kwagga Smith after the South African had charged down a kick by Giteau’s replacement Hikaru Tamura.
Giteau later returned to the field to kick a penalty and make it 22-13 at the break.
A repeat act by Giteau and Ozaki, this time via a long pass from the flyhalf, saw Suntory once again close to within two points.
After turning down a relatively simple shot at goal, Yamaha saw its lead taken away in the 70th minute when Ozaki crossed for his third try following a frantic few minutes in which both sides turned the ball over.
The drama was not over, however, as Goromaru kicked a penalty after the hooter to send the game into extra time.
Yamaha seemed to have the edge as the extra period got under way, but it inexcusably chose to kick possession away and was penalized for not rolling away when Suntory counter-attacked.
Giteau’s deadly left boot did the rest, putting the two-time defending champions into their third straight final.
“We now need to forget about today’s game and be hungry for the championship game next week,” Suntory coach Keisuke Sawaki said.
The final, Wheeler said, would be a real test.
“Kobe have been playing some outstanding footy and are a great outfit. We will need to be at the top of our game but anything can happen in finals footy,” he said.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.