The 2019-2020 Japan Rugby Top League season kicked off Sunday with a plethora of world superstars and Rugby World Cup winners playing in front of big crowds across the nation.
The season was pushed back five months to accommodate last year’s World Cup and will run until May, with the team atop the standings after 15 games crowned champion.
Toshiba Brave Lupus claimed bragging rights for the Tokyo suburb of Fuchu by beating local rivals Suntory Sungoliath 26-19 in front of 21,564 at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.
Suntory, which had Masakatsu Nishikawa red carded in the first half for a dangerous clear-out at a ruck, stayed in the game thanks to two try-saving tackles from Wallabies center Samu Kerevi.
But tries by Hisayoshi Matsuoka and Masataka Mikami in the 61st and 70th minutes broke the deadlock and ensured Kerevi’s 76th-minute effort was nothing more than a consolation score.
“The players worked hard in the preseason and it showed today,” said new Toshiba coach Todd Blackadder.
The former All Blacks player had special praise for Japan captain Michael Leitch, who he said had returned to the club from the World Cup both physically and mentally tired.
“I thought he was outstanding,” said Blackadder, who moved to Japan last year from English Premiership side Bath. “He didn’t play one preseason game, but with experienced players you get mental toughness and it just shows the caliber of the man that he can go out and play 80 minutes.”
Reigning champions Kobe Kobelco Steelers carried on where they left off, hammering Canon Eagles 50-16 at home in front of 23,004 with three-time World Player of the Year and two-time Rugby World Cup winner Dan Carter contributing 18 points courtesy of a try, five conversions and a penalty goal.
New Zealand lock Brodie Retallick marked his debut for the Steelers with a try in the 82nd minute.
In Shizuoka Prefecture, Steve Hansen, who coached the All Blacks to success at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, got off to a losing start as director of rugby at Toyota Verblitz as his side went down 31-29 to Yamaha Jubilo.
Japan international Kenki Fukuoka bagged two five-pointers as Panasonic Wild Knights defeated Kubota Spears 34-11 before 17,722 at Kumagaya Rugby Stadium.
The Brave Blossoms pair of Lomano Lava Lemeki and Koo Ji-won were among the try scorers as Honda Heat topped Ricoh Black Rams 28-5, while NTT Communications Shining Arcs came from behind to beat Hino Red Dolphins 29-20 with captain Shokei Kin touching down twice and Australia international Christian Leali’ifano kicking three conversions and a penalty.
In the game between the two newly promoted sides, NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes edged Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars 31-24 while Munakata Sanix Blues beat NEC Green Rockets 24-18.