Top League 2018 Season:
Week five sees the 16 teams pass the half-way point of a shortened 2018 Top League season. The only game that was played last weekend was the one make-up match for round two between the Kobelco Steelers and the Munakata Sanix Blues. New leaders the Steelers, sit atop of the Red Conference after their 69-5 thumping of the Blues, on 15 points with Verblitz on 13, followed by Suntory, Hino and NTT Com. who have secured 12 points each.
In the White Conference unbeaten Panasonic Wild knights have a three-point buffer over Yamaha Jubilo and Ricoh. Four matches this weekend will be played on Saturday with the remaining four on Sunday.
Jubilo suffered their first loss of the season two weeks ago when they were held scoreless by a ruthless Panasonic outfit. Toshiba conversely recorded just their second victory with a comfortable 29-14 bonus-point win over the winless Coca-Cola Red Sparks, and now lie fourth in the table, three points behind second-place Yamaha. This is a game Brave Lupus must win but that will be no easy task against a Jubilo side that will desperately want to atone for its disastrous showing in Tokyo a fortnight ago.
This will be a tight tussle up front as both teams sport quality players all around the park. Going into the match, Toshiba will be slightly more confident but Yamaha has home advantage and that should be enough for the Shizuoka-based team to edge Brave Lupus by seven points or less.
So close yet so far again for the Honda Heat as the team searches for its elusive first win of the season. In round four the Heat threw away its chance of beating the Kubota Spears for just the second time in history, going down 31-29 in an eight-try thriller. After leading the visitors for 79 minutes, Honda had their prop Tomohiro Nishigaki yellow carded and Kubota took full advantage, scoring a converted try in the final minute. A tough loss to take for the Heat and it doesn’t get any easier when Panasonic come to visit. The Wild Knights looked every part a champion team as they blanked the previously unbeaten Yamaha Jubilo 15-0.
The Honda Heat has been so close to winning but inexperience has cost the team from Mie prefecture. This Saturday the Heat is playing a team that has yet to be toppled in the White Conference. Miracles do happen but not this time. The Wild Knights should beat the home-side by 10 points or more.
After four rounds of matches the Kubota Spears have accumulated ten points and are in 5th position. The Ricoh Black Rams are on 14 points in 3rd place. Both of these sides won tense encounters two weekends back. Against the Heat, the Spears were lucky to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the 80th minute. The Black Rams were also fortunate to keep out the Canon Eagles in a 21-17 nail-biter. Another win this weekend will undoubtedly move the Spears into the top four placings of the White Conference. A Black Rams’ victory however will cement their place amongst the top three teams.
Both teams are on a two-game winning streak but it has been the Spears who have impressed the most with a come-from-behind victory over Honda and a decisive wearing-down of the Eagles. Kubota are on the up and should beat the Black Rams by seven points or more.
Last weekend the Blues were humiliated by the Steelers 69-5. This weekend Munakata Sanix will face a refreshed Toyota Verbliz who is currently placed second in the table in the Red Conference. The Fukuoka-based side has lost all four of their matches, conceding an average of 40 points per game. In round four, Toyota and Kobelco battled it out to an incredible 26-all draw. A brilliant 88th minute try drew Toyota level with Kobelco only for fly-half Lionel Cronje to miss the conversion leaving the teams to settle for two points apiece.
The Blues are extremely unlikely to trouble Verblitz or the scoreboard in Saturday’s match-up. The visiting Verblitz should romp home by 20 points or more.
A week before the bye the Canon Eagles went down fighting 21-17 to the Black Rams. While the Coca-Cola Red Sparks lost their fourth-round match 29-14 to Toshiba. In the first two rounds, the Red sparks conceded 53 points per game while averaging 10 points on attack. After rounds three and four the Coca-Cola team has reduced the damage to 33 points a match and increased its attacking prowess to an average of 15 points. Okay, four losses from four games is not ideal but the Red Sparks continue to slowly improve in both attack and defense and made Toshiba work hard for their victory.
The Canon Eagles will be eyeing this game up as an easy five points in the bag. Expect the Red Sparks to put up some resistance but ultimately they will succumb to the Eagles’ experience and the quality that is in their team. Canon should win this by 10 points or more.
Two weeks ago NEC Green Rockets scored five tries in a game but still managed to lose 47-31 to a savage Suntory side making up for its loss against the Kobelco Steelers in round three. The Green Rockets have only picked up one win this season and that was against the cellar-dwelling Blues. Contrastingly, round four saw the Shining Arcs outscore the Hino Red Dolphins seven tries to four in a pulsating 45-28 victory. That makes it two wins in a row for the NTT Com. side who seems to have found some form going into the second half of the pool games.
NEC is struggling to pick up wins so far in this competition. The Shining Arcs are starting to click and are gaining in confidence. The NTT Com. team should be too strong for the Green Rockets and win by 10 points or more.
These two sides share second place in the Red Conference with each having three wins and one loss. In the last match Suntory returned to its winning ways, overcoming a pesky NEC side by 16 points. The Shuttles also got back on track with a comfortable 32-15 away win over the Sanix Blues. The third week was the bogy round for both teams as Suntory lost convincingly to Kobelco 36-20 and more worryingly Toyota Industries were hammered 64-26 by NTT Comunications. Furthermore the Shuttles have recorded their victories over teams that are currently taking up 6th, 7th and 8th places on the Red Conference log. This match will be a huge challenge and test for the visitors.
Suntory scored seven tries in their demolition of NEC last game. This Sunday, Sungoliath will face a team that has three wins under its belt but proved very vulnerable against the Shining Arcs. If there are chinks in the armor of the Shuttles, then Sungoliath will exploit them to the fullest. The Tokyo –based team should this win by 10 points or more.
Two weeks ago Kobelco Steelers battled Toyota Verblitz in an absolute epic encounter that finished up 26 all.
A near flawless kicking performance from Toyota’s no. 10, Lionel Cronje, overshadowed a solid performance by Dan Carter for the Kolbelco side.
Despite the Steelers scoring two tries to Verblitz’s one, it was the boot of Cronje that kept his side in the hunt right until the end. The South African-born play-maker contributed 21 points in penalties and was the perfect match-up to contain Carter who accounted for 16 points with his own kicking game. With 89 minutes up on the clock, Cronje’s conversion attempt to steal the game was pushed wide of the posts and the final score remained tied.
The Hino Red Dolphins in comparison were completely outplayed by a resurgent Shining Arcs side a fortnight ago. After starting this year’s competition with a fantastic win over the Blues, the Red Dolphins have since lost their last three matches and with each game the number of conceded points has progressively increased. In round two Hino allowed just 15 points to the Shuttles, then 36 to Toyota Verblitz and with their most recent result against the Shining Arcs produced a whopping 45 conceded points. Alarm bells should be ringing for their defensive coach. This Sunday the Red Dolphins will go head to head with the Kobelco Steelers who have shot to the top of the conference thanks to an 11 try to one drubbing of the Blues last week. This upcoming match will be the first ever meeting between the two sides and already the signs look ominous for the visiting newbies. Welcome to the Top League.
The Kolbelco Steelers deservedly lead the Red Conference after the half-way mark. Hino Red Dolphins have struggled to make an impact against the higher-caliber teams. This Sunday will be no exception. The Steelers should have no problem putting the Red Dolphins away by 20 points or more.