Rugby: Yamasawa’s magic leads Panasonic past Toshiba

The mercurial skills of Takuya Yamasawa helped Panasonic Wild Knights to their third straight win in the Japan Rugby Top League on Saturday night as Robbie Deans’ side beat Toshiba Brave Lupus 31-24 at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.

The 23-year-old flyhalf — overlooked so far by national team coach Jamie Joseph in the buildup to next year’s Rugby World Cup — showed the full range of his skills and had his coach purring with delight.

«This weekend at this stadium you saw two world-class standoffs,» said Panasonic boss Deans. «One was Dan Carter and the other was Yamasawa.»

«He is clearly very gifted and can do things others can’t. More importantly he is becoming comfortable dealing with pressure and making decisions that serve the team.»

With pace and vision that few backs in Japan can match, Yamasawa’s performance included a good cover tackle on Brave Blossoms captain Michael Leitch and accurate goal kicking, landing five from six on the night.

To top it off, he scored two tries and had a considerable hand in another, as Panasonic made sure they would have plenty of contenders for try of the season.

Despite the big win, Panasonic finish the weekend in second spot in the White Conference on 13 points, one behind Yamaha Jubilo, who beat Honda Heat 34-16.

Ricoh Black Rams are third on 10 points following their 36-15 win over Coca-Cola Red Sparks, while Kubota Spears are fourth on six points thanks to a 14-3 defeat of Canon Eagles.

In the Red Conference, two first-half tries from captain Kazuki Himeno helped Toyota Verblitz down Hino Red Dolphins 36-14, though Jake White’s team needed to defend well for long periods of the second half to beat the league’s new boys.

NTT Communications Shining Arcs hammered the previously unbeaten Toyota Industries Shuttles 64-26, while NEC Green Rockets downed Munakata Sanix Blues 24-15.

Verblitz top the group with 11 points, three more than Kobe Kobelco Steelers (who have a game in hand), the Shuttles, and Suntory Sungoliath.

This season, the league’s 16 teams have been split into two conferences — Red and White. Following seven rounds of pool games, the top four sides from each group will play for the league title.

The bottom eight sides will fight it out to determine which four will enter relegation/promotion playoffs with the top four teams from the second-division Top Challenge League.

In the second game of the doubleheader in Tokyo, a tight opening 20 minutes was followed by three tries in seven minutes. Hiroki Yuhara and Coenraad van Wyk touched down for Toshiba before Yamasawa responded for Panasonic, as he followed up his own kick and made the most of a fortuitous bounce.

With Toshiba’s pack having the edge in the tight, they laid siege to the Panasonic line as the half drew to a close and looked set to increase their lead.

But a turnover on their own line saw the Wild Knights launch a counter with Yamasawa using his pace to run 70 meters before his clever kick found Akihito Yamada, who regathered and crossed between the posts.

Yamasawa added a penalty in the 43rd minute to make it 17-14 at the break before taking things to a different level.

A 90-meter break from the University of Tsukuba graduate early in the second half set up the field position from which Rikiya Matsuda crossed, before Yamasawa showed some impressive soccer skills as he twice fly-hacked through to score a stunning try of his own in the corner.

Toshiba replacement scrumhalf Takahiro Ogawa and wing Takehisa Usuzuki both touched down in the final 13 minutes but it was not enough to earn the Brave Lupus a bonus point for losing by seven or less.

«I thought we had them under the pump but we weren’t good enough to finish them off,» rued outside center Richard Kahui. «We knew they were good at turnovers and counter-attacks but they were just too quick for us to close them down.»

All — Kyodo News+

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