• Kyodo

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Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay and the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights will face off at Tokyo’s National Stadium on Jan. 7 in the first regular-season match of Japan’s newly formed professional rugby union competition, the league revealed Monday.

The inaugural round of the new Japan Rugby League One season will also feature three matches on Jan. 8, including Tokyo Sungoliath against Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo, and a further two games on Jan. 9.

The new, more professional structure supersedes the corporate-oriented Japan Top League that wrapped up its final season in May, with Panasonic crowned champions.

In an online news conference, Wild Knights back Koki Takeyama said the rebranded club aims to carry its powerhouse status into the new three-tier league.

“We finished the Top League as champions and want to aim for the League One championship as well,” Takeyama said.

The 12-team first division will be split into two groups of six teams. The clubs will play their group-mates twice each in a round robin. They will also play one game against each side in the other group, for a total of 16 regular-season matches.

The top four teams will advance to a playoff tournament to determine the championship.

The six-team second division will kick off on Jan. 9, while the third division, also comprised of six teams, will start on Jan. 15.

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