CONGRATULATIONS RIJ newsletter celebrates it’s 10th anniversary
RiJ reports on the final of the National championship with Suntory defeating Kobe to take the Top League and National Championship double for the second year in a row.
Enjoy the read.
Ian McDonnell lives and works in Japan. He can be contacted at email@example.com
- The 50th National Championship 2013 Final
The 50th National Championship 2013
Prior to 2009, the National Championship had an 8-team format for three years, but from 2009 the number of teams was increased to ten with the inclusion of two extra Top League sides. Thus, the National Championship now involves six Top League sides, the two top university teams, the winner of the Top Challenge Series and the Top Club team. The first round of the 50th National Championship 2013 kicks off on Saturday, 02 February 2013.
The top four finishers on the final Japan Rugby Top League table automatically qualify for the National Championship. At the completion of all thirteen rounds of the 2012-13 Top League season, Suntory Sungoliath topped the table followed by Toshiba Brave Lupus, Panasonic Wild Knights and Kobelco Steel Kobe Steelers. These four teams also participate in the Top League Play-off semi-finals with the two teams taking part in the final, that is, Suntory and Toshiba, receiving byes over the first two rounds of the National Championship.
In 2010, the Wildcard Tournament was introduced for the Top League sides that finished fifth to tenth on the final table. These six sides played off over two weekends to determine the final two Top League participants after the top four Top League finishers gained automatic qualification. In the 2013 Wildcard Tournament, Toyota Verblitz and Yamaha Jubilo qualified for the National Championship.
The two universities that participated in the 49th National University Championship final gained admission to the National Championship. Teikyo University defeated Tsukuba University in the final and consequently Teikyo qualified as University 1 and Tsukuba qualified as University 2.
In 2013, Kubota Spears (Top East), Toyota Industries Shuttles (Top West), Coca-Cola West Red Sparks (Top Kyushu) together with Mitsubishi Dynaboars as the winner of Top Challenge Two contested the Top Challenge One series with Coca-Cola as the winner gaining automatic entry to the National Championship as the Top Challenger.
In 2013, in the final of the 20th National Club Championship Rokko Fighting Bull (Kansai 1) beat Hokkaido Barbarians (Kanto 1) 49-0 to qualify for the National Championship as the Club Champion.
Recent National Championship Finals
2013 (50th): Suntory 36 d Kobe 20
2012 (49th): Suntory 21 d Panasonic 9
2011 (48th): Suntory 37 d Sanyo 20
2010 (47th): Sanyo 22 d Toyota 17.
2009 (46th): Sanyo 24 d Suntory 16.
2008 (45th): Sanyo 40 d Suntory 18.
2007 (44th): Toshiba 19 d Toyota 10.
2006 (43rd): Toshiba 6 drew with NEC 6. (Joint champions)
2005 (42nd): NEC 17 d Toyota 13.
2004 (41st): Toshiba 22 d Kobe 10.
Suntory Sungoliath (Top League) 36 d Kobelco Steel Kobe Steelers (Top League) 20
Suntory 36 – Tries: Daishi Murata, Hirotoki Onozawa, Koji Taira, Shinki Gen and Masakatsu Nishikawa; Conversions: Ryan Nicholas 4; Penalty: Ryan Nicholas d
Kobe 20 – Tries: Jaque Fourie, Fraser Anderson and Yuta Imamura; Conversion: Daisuke Yamamoto; Penalty: Daisuke Yamamoto.
Date: Sunday, 24 February 2013
Venue: National Stadium, Tokyo
Referee: Akihisa Aso
Halftime: Suntory 15 – Kobe 3
Conditions: Forecast daily maximum for Tokyo 7 degrees Celsius, fine, strong northerly wind. Ground well covered, firm and fast.
Yellow Card: Go Aruga (Suntory No.15, 39 minute first half, foul play)
Suntory: 1- Akira Ozaki, 2- Yusuke Aoki, 3- Kensuke Hatakeyama, 4- Koji Shinozuka, 5- Shinya Makabe (c), 6- George Smith, 7- Takamichi Sasaki, 8- Masakatsu Nishikawa, 9- Fourie du Preez, 10- Kosei Ono, 11- Hirotoki Onozawa, 12- Ryan Nicholas, 13- Koji Taira, 14- Daishi Murata and 15- Go Aruga. Reserves: 16- Tateo Kanai, 17- Yosuke Ikegaya, 18- Taichi Tahara, 19- Shinki Gen, 20- Atsushi Hiwasa, 21- Hiroki Miyamoto and 22- Tusi Pisiata. Coach: Naoya Okubo.
Kobe: 1- Hisateru Hirashima, 2- Yoshimitsu Yasue, 3- Hiroshi Yamashita, 4- Shoji Ito, 5- Yoshitaka Hayashi, 6- Ryuta Yasui, 7- Daiki Hashimoto (c), 8- Pasuka Mapakaitolo, 9- Satoru Sawatari, 10- Daisuke Yamamoto, 11- Yoshikazu Ohashi, 12- Craig Wing, 13- Jaque Fourie, 14- Fraser Anderson and 15- Kenji Shomen. Reserves: 16- Takeshi Kizu, 17- Motoki Yamazaki, 18- Itaru Taniguchi, 19- Shohei Maekawa, 20- Takashi Sato, 21- Naoya Minamihashi and 22- Yuta Imamura. Coach: Yuji Sonoda.
Suntory 38 d Kobe 19 (TL Play-off semi-final 2012-13)
Suntory 43 d Kobe 29 (TL 2012-13)
Suntory 32 d Kobe 28 (TL 2011-12)
Suntory 44 d Kobe 42 (TL 2010-11)
Suntory 24 drew with Kobe 24 (TL 2009-10)
Suntory 67 d Kobe 3 (TL 2008-09)
Suntory 31 d Kobe 14 (TL 2007-08)
Suntory 31 d Kobe 10 (TL 2006-07)
Kobe 23 d Suntory 18 (TL 2005-06)
Kobe 31 d Suntory 24 (TL 2004-05)
Suntory 54 d Kobe 31 (TL 2003-04)
Defending champions Suntory Sungoliath are playing in their third National Championship final in a row when they meet Kobelco Steel Kobe Steelers at the National Stadium in Tokyo on Sunday 24 February 2013 in the final of the 50th National Championship.
Suntory have won the national crown five times (2012, 2011, 2002, 2001 (joint champions with Kobe after final drawn 27-all) and 1996) and been runners-up three times (2009, 2008 and 2003) and without a defeat this season the Sungoliath will be gunning to add a sixth national title to the trophy cabinet. Suntory won the double last season when they took both the Top League and National Championship titles and with the Top League title already in the bag for this season they are one win away from repeating the double for a second year in a row.
Suntory are on a twenty-two game winning streak in all competitions that stretches back over a year when they lost 21-18 to Toshiba on 22 January 2012 in round eleven of the 2011-12 Japan Rugby Top League season. Along the way, under Eddie Jones Suntory collected the Top league and National Championship titles last season while under Naoya Okubo in his first year as head coach the Sungoliath went through the rounds this season undefeated. Unsurprisingly, after the thirteenth and final round of the 2012-13 Japan Rugby Top League season, unbeaten Suntory topped the table with 63 from a possible 65 points. In the Top League Play-off Series they beat Kobe in the semi-finals and then Toshiba in the final.
Suntory have an embarrassment of riches and have at their disposal a who’s who of Japan representative players along with top shelf international stars such as former Wallabies flanker George Smith and former Springboks halfback Fourie du Preez. Yusuke Aoki and Kensuke Hatakeyama are vital parts of the front row while in the second row, Koji Shinozuka and captain Shinya Makabe will most likely start. Smith, Takamichi Sasaki and Masakatsu Nishikawa were the back row in the semi with Nishikawa the only uncapped player in the run-on pack. Du Preez and Kosei Ono have formed a lethal halves combination, while Hirotoki Onozawa and Daishi Murata on the wings, Ryan Nicholas and Koji Taira in the midfield and Go Aruga at the back are some of the best in the business. There is an abundance of experience elsewhere in the squad with props Akira Ozaki and Yosuke Ikegaya, South African lock Danie Rossouw, backrower Shinki Gen, halfback Atsushi Hiwasa, and backs Hiroki Miyamoto and Tusi Pisi.
Kobe have been crowned national champions nine times (2001, 2000, 1989 to 1995) and been runners-up 3 times (2004, 2002 and 1999) but it is now over ten years since their last title and their first final since losing to Toshiba back in 2004. However, the Steelers are a vastly improved team this season and fully deserve their place in the decider where they will throw down the gauntlet to their more fancied rivals.
In Top League this season, Kobe finished in fourth place on 49 points from nine wins, a draw and three losses. Kobe won the inaugural Top League title in the 2003-4 season but have been just off the pace over the ensuing seasons; until now. The Steelers have been a much more settle and improved outfit in the 2012-13 season and for much of the year sat in second place behind Suntory. Three consecutive losses, albeit very close ones, to Toshiba, Panasonic and Suntory over the final three rounds of the season with all games played at the Home’s Stadium in Kobe had the effect of pushing Kobe into fourth place on the final table. In the final round, Suntory beat Kobe 43-29 while in the Play-off semi final Suntory also were also victorious to the tune of 38-19.
This will be the third meeting between Suntory and Kobe this season with the former victorious on both occasions. In fact, over recent years Suntory have had the wood on Kobe with the last win the Steelers enjoyed coming back in the Top League rounds in 2005-6. Since then Suntory have won seven while has also been one draw along the way.
Kobe also boast a strong squad with Japan internationals in hookers Takeshi Kizu and Yuji Matsubara, props Hisateru Hirashima, Yoshimitsu Yasue, and Hiroshi Yamashita fighting it out for positions in the front row. Shoji Ito and rookie Ryuta Yasui are the likely locks while captain Daiki Hashimoto, Josh Blackie, Shohei Maekawa and Itaru Taniguchi are contenders for the back row. Takashi Sato and Takashi Sakuma are the halfbacks while Daisuke Yamamoto started as playmaker in the semi-final. Yoshikazu Ohashi and Yuta Imamura are the likely the wings, while Naoya Minamihashi, Craig Wing and South African Jaque Fourie are centres with Kenji Shomen the fullback. Meanwhile, Fraser Anderson is a game-breaking utility back.
Defending champions Suntory Sungoliath won their third National Championship title in a row when they beat Kobelco Steel Kobe Steelers 36-20 at the National Stadium in Tokyo on Sunday 24 February 2013 in the final of the 50th National Championship.
Suntory have now won the national crown six times (2013, 2012, 2011, 2002, 2001 (joint champions with Kobe after final drawn 27-all) and 1996) and been runners-up three times (2009, 2008 and 2003) and without a defeat this season the Sungoliath added another national title to the trophy cabinet. Suntory won the double last season when they took both the Top League and National Championship titles and with the Top League title already in the bag for this season they repeated the double for a second year in a row.
Suntory completed the season on a twenty-three game winning streak in all competitions that stretches back over a year when they lost 21-18 to Toshiba on 22 January 2012 in round eleven of the 2011-12 Japan Rugby Top League season. It also means that in the tenth anniversary year of Top League, Suntory became the first team to go through the entire season without defeat in the Top League era. Along the way, under Eddie Jones Suntory collected the Top league and National Championship titles last season while under Naoya Okubo in his first year as head coach the Sungoliath went through the rounds this season undefeated. Unsurprisingly, after the thirteenth and final round of the 2012-13 Japan Rugby Top League season, unbeaten Suntory topped the table with 63 from a possible 65 points. In the Top League Play-off Series they beat Kobe in the semi-finals and then Toshiba in the final.
On the same day in which the Tokyo Marathon was held, Kobe kicked off with Suntory running with a stiff breeze at their backs. It did not take long for the Sungoliath to make use of the wind and get into their stride with right wing Daishi Murata crossing for the opening try in the first minute of play. Centre Ryan Nicholas converted the try to open up an early 7-0 lead for the defending champions. Suntory controlled the early exchanges in both attack and defence and when veteran left wing Hirotoki Onozawa crossed for the second try in the fifteenth minute the message was clear that the Sungoliath were playing to win. Nicholas failed to land the conversion in the swirling conditions but he made up for that miss with a penalty in the 29th minute to see Suntory push clear to a 15-0 lead. Fullback Go Aruga was sinbinned late in the half and with a man down Kobe finished the half with a penalty to five-eighth Daisuke Yamamoto to take the sides to the break with Suntory leading 15-3.
Suntory kicked off the second half and despite the fact that Kobe had the advantage of the wind and an extra man centre Koji Taira scored the third Suntory try in the fourth minute of play with the Nicholas conversion leaving a lot for Kobe to do to come back from 22-3 down. The task was made all that much more harder when Shinki Gen crossed the Kobe whitewash in the fourteenth minute followed by a further five-pointer to barnstorming No8 Masakatsu Nishikawa in the twenty-third minute to blow out the scoreline to 36-3.
Kobe staged a brave comeback over the final fifteen minutes with tries to centre Jaque Fourie, right wing Fraser Anderson and replacement wing Yuta Imamura giving their fans something to cheer but it was all too late with Suntory running out comfortable 36-20 winners.