Top League 2018 Season:
Japan's Top league is reaching the business end of the season. With two rounds left before the play-off stages, Panasonic Wild Knights continue their dominating run, making it five wins from five to remain top of the Red Conference on 22 points. Yamaha Jubilo is second on 19 points followed by Ricoh Black Rams who have 15 points with Kubota Spears lying fourth on 14 points.
After their comprehensive 74-10 shellacking of the Hino Red Dolphins, Kobelco Steelers have easily retained their first place in the White Conference. The men from Kobe have 20 points, two ahead of second placed Toyota Verblitz . Suntory Sungoliath and NTT Com. Shining Arcs make up the top four of that division.
All eight matches in round six will be played on Saturday with Chichibunomiya Stadium in Tokyo hosting two games (at 11:30 am and at 2 pm) while the rest of the match-ups will all kick off at 1pm at different rugby grounds up and down the country.
The Canon Eagles are coming off a good 43-24 win over Coca-Cola Red Sparks in round five. Fijian lock Samuela Anise scored a brace in the first half as the Eagles raced out to a 33-12 lead after 40 minutes. Canon then took its foot off the pedal however allowing the team rooted to the bottom of the White conference to take the second half 12-10. Yamaha Jubilo meanwhile had a great win last weekend against Toshiba Brave Lupus at home. In an emphatic 27-7 display, Jubilo outscored the visitors four tries to one to record its fourth victory in the competition.
The Eagles have lacked consistency this season and are facing a team that has just taken Brave Lupus out of the equation. Yamaha should prove too strong for the home team and win by 10 points or more.
Last Sunday the Shining Arcs were upset by NEC 34-31, snapping their two-game winning streak. A game that NTT Com. should have won easily was reflective of the Chiba-based side’s hot and cold form shown this season. Currently the club sits fourth in the table and is playing second-placed Toyota Verblitz, who crushed the Blues 52-7. The Toyota team has been on the blitz since its narrow first round loss to Suntory and will be keen to continue its powerful run on the back of some accurate goal-kicking by the team’s fly-half, Lionel Cronje.
The Shining Arcs have been guilty of not turning up to play on more than one occasion, and it has cost the side maximum points. Toyota Verblitz is a team that will try to apply pressure early on through their experienced international backline including New Zealand center Henry Jaime who has six tries already to his name. Verblitz should win this comfortably by 10 points or more.
Toshiba has dropped two places to sixth after recording its third loss of the season, going down 27-7 to Yamaha in Shizuoka. It didn’t help matters when Brave Lupus lost its captain Richard Kahui who exited the game in the 22nd minute. After that turning point, Jubilo shut out the visitors and got a bonus point victory in the process. Kubota is on a three-match winning streak and is three points clear of Toshiba in fourth position. In round 5 the Spears expertly put away Ricoh Black Rams 22-16.
Toshiba is in danger of finishing the season outside the top four in the White Conference. Kubota on the other hand has got its sights locked onto finishing in the top half of the competition. The Spears should beat Brave Lupus by seven points or more.
The Wild Knights remain unbeaten and for good reason too. Coach Robbie Deans has molded his players into an unstoppable force that no team has matched approaching week six. Last week Panasonic cruised to a 41-12 victory over the withering Honda Heat with hooker Atsushi Sakate and center Harold Vorster picking up two tries apiece. The second half saw the Wild Knights ramp it up and score 22 unanswered points. This season the Black Rams have beaten Honda, Coca-Cola, and Canon but have lost two games including last week's, when Ricoh was beaten 22-16 by Kubota Spears.
Panasonic is at home and based on current form should be able to roll over the Black Rams by 10 points or more.
NEC surprised many by beating the NTT Com. Shining Arcs 34-31 last week. The Green Rockets scored all four of their tries in the first half and hung on for victory. That great win will have instilled a lot of confidence into a team that has now added a second scalp to its tally. Week six sees the victors face a team that has suffered the ignominy of leaking the most points in a match this season. Hino was annihilated 74-10 by a rampaging Kobelco Steelers that relentlessly routed the Red Dolphins up front in the forwards.
The Green Rockets’ players will have a spring in their step during training this week. NEC beat a very good side in round five and will be flowing with confidence as a result. The Red Dragons just experienced a massive reality check; promotion to Top League is a great achievement but at the same time the quality of Division one teams is considerably higher. Hino’s confidence must be shattered. Expect the Green Rockets to take advantage and beat the visitors by 10 points or more.
Last placed Coca-Cola take on second to last placed Honda side in the White Conference. Surprisingly, the Red Sparks have won 75% of their matches against this opponent. Although the Coca-Cola Red Sparks managed to score four tries in last week’s match-up, their porous defense once again let in seven 5-pointers. The score eventually ended up 43-24 to the Canon Eagles. If Coca-Cola can shore up their defensive frailties then this is a fantastic opportunity to get their first win of the season. Round five saw a heavy defeat for Honda at the hands of Panasonic whose rock-solid defense kept the Heat from scoring a single point in the second half.
While there is a definite weekly improvement in the Red Sparks’ attack, the Coca-Cola team is still likely to concede 30+ points per game, even at home. Coupled with the fact that the Heat has performed better against teams that have thrashed the Red Sparks, Honda should be able to secure a victory by 10 points or more.
Last weekend visiting Toyota Industries Shuttles came up against some serious opposition in the form of Suntory Sungoliath. The game was effectively over as a contest by half-time after Sungoliath had produced three converted tries to the visitor’s solitary penalty. The second half though was a much improved effort by the Shuttles as the team prevailed over Suntory on the scoreboard, outscoring the home side three tries to two. The first half’s capitulation was too steep a mountain to climb however and the game concluded with the Shuttles losing 35-24. In week four, Toyota Industries were co-leaders-alongside Suntory in the Red Conference but their second loss has dropped the side into fifth position. The Shuttles must regroup quickly if they have any chance of staving off a third defeat against table-a topping Kobelco side that is in scintillating form. The Steelers twelve try to one demolition of Hino Red Dolphins oozed of class and clinical finishing. The main contributors to the most damaging scoreline against opposition this season were left wing Shinsuke Iseki who ran in four tries, and Kiwi center Richard Buchman who bagged a hat-trick. The Steelers could also afford not to select either Dan Carter or Hayden Parker in their match-day squad which shows the incredible depth Kobelco has at fly-half.
With the Steelers on fire at the moment the Shuttles’ chances of a top four finish have just got exponentially more difficult. The Kobe-based team is averaging almost 48 points per game so far in the 2018 season. Since the Shuttles have never beaten the Steelers in four attempts, the visitors are likely to further demoralize Toyota Industries, winning by 15 points or more.
The 2018 Top League competition has wreaked havoc on the Munakata Sanix Blues up to week six. The Fukuoka-based side has lost all five matches and has also been on the receiving end of f hidings by Kobelco Steelers and Toyota Verblitz. Last week the Toyota side racked up 52 points to the Blues’ seven. Over five rounds Sanix has conceded an average of 42 points per match while scoring less than 10. The Blue’s sixth-round opponent is Suntory Sungoliath whose own defense hasn’t been particularly flash, allowing 27 points per game. In attack however Sungoliath is superior, averaging 30 points a contest. The defending champions achieved a fifth-round 35-24 win over the Shuttles to move up to third place in the Red Conference.
Munakata Sanix is too far down, and out of this competition, and although the Blues may breach Suntory’s defense and score some points, the boys from Tokyo should be able to score plenty more. Suntory Sungoliath ought to win this by 15 points or more.