Rugby

Steelers claim Top League title

Kyodo

The Kobe Kobelco Steelers claimed their second Japan Rugby Top League title Saturday with a 55-5 drubbing of Suntory Sungoliath at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.

The game also doubled as the All-Japan Championship final and saw Kobe — whose only previous league win came in their inaugural season in 2003-04 — pick up its 11th national crown and first since 2000-01.

“You get what you prepare for and our preparation was awesome, especially leading into this game,” Kobe coach Dave Dillon said.

With players in their 30s leading the way, the Steelers produced a superb display of 15-man rugby against the two-time defending champions, who were full of praise for the Steelers despite ruing their own errors.

“Kobe were very good for the full 80 minutes and we simply couldn’t play our style of rugby,” Suntory captain Yutaka Nagare said.

“They are world-class players and world-class men in their giving of time and understanding of how to grow the environment,” Dillon said of his team’s veterans. “We are lucky to have a number over 30 who are Japanese and (foreigners).”

Two early tries from 34-year-old Fraser Anderson laid the foundations for the win, with 30-year-old Ryohei Yamanaka also claiming a brace.

Ryuhei Arita, 34-year-old Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tom Franklin, and Grant Hattingh also crossed the chalk with Hayden Parker adding a conversion.

Dan Carter, who turns 37 in March, kicked five conversions and a penalty goal and was ably supported at halfback by Atsushi Hiwasa, who at 31 is rediscovering the form that saw him win 51 caps for Japan.

The day’s seven other games determined the final rankings and the match-ups of the one-off promotion/relegation games, to be played on Dec. 23, between the bottom four sides of the top flight and the top four sides in the Top Challenge League.

A late penalty by Gerrie Labuschagne saw Yamaha Jubilo beat Toyota Verblitz 15-12 in the third-place playoff, while the NTT Communications Shining Arcs edged the Panasonic Wild Knights 43-41 for fifth spot.

Gerhard van den Heever contributed 20 points as the Kubota Spears edged the Ricoh Black Rams 30-26 for seventh place, the Honda Heat topped the NEC Green Rockets 30-24 for ninth spot and the Toshiba Brave Lupus downed the Canon Eagles 31-18 for 11th place.

At Chichibunomiya, Anderson’s two tries — the first the result of a patient build-up, the second due to a good offload from Isileli Nakajima — saw Kobe take an early 12-0 lead.

Suntory struck back with Seiya Ozaki making the most of a clever delayed pass from Yusuke Kajimura.

But a Carter penalty and a try from Arita following his own charge down of a kick by Kotaro Matsushima put 17 points between the teams at halftime, with the Steelers knowing they had the strong northerly wind at their backs in the second half.

Two tries in the opening seven minutes of the second half killed off the contest.

Ashley-Cooper showed he still has plenty to offer Australia at next year’s Rugby World Cup as he stretched Kobe’s lead with a try that began with his own crunching tackle on Matsushima.

And Yamanaka showed great strength to go over after the Steelers once again stretched the Sungoliath defense with a combination of pace and patience.

Further tries from Franklin, Grant Hattingh, following a good pass from Anderson, and Yamanaka saw Kobe reach the half century and rub salt in the wounds of Suntory.

“Rugby in Kobe has been around for 90 years and we’ve taken those values and beliefs and put them into our culture,” said Dillon. “We are a tight group and that’s why we were able to put in a performance like today.”