The 2018-19 Japan Rugby Top League season kicked off Friday night with Canon beating Toshiba 26-20 at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, the Eagles’ first win over the Brave Lupus in six attempts.
Eleven points from the boot of Japan flyhalf Yu Tamura, including a drop goal 12 minutes from time, ensured former South Africa coach Allister Coetzee had a winning return to Japan.
«We defended very well. Our set piece was high quality against a big physical team and we did the fundamentals well,» said Coetzee, who coached Kobe Kobelco Steelers from 2015 to 2016 before heading home to coach the Springboks.
In the evening’s other games, Hino Red Dolphins celebrated their first ever game in the top flight by hammering Munakata Sanix Blues 33-3, Kobe Steel held on to beat NTT Communications Shining Arcs 34-27, while last season’s runners-up Panasonic Wild Knights edged Kubota Spears 15-11.
On a warm, humid night in the nation’s capital, Canon scored the first try of the season in the fifth minute through Naoto Shimada, following a powerful run by Japan lock Samuela Anise.
Michael Leitch soon squared things up, however, when he showed impressive strength and speed to go over from 20 meters out.
Coenraad van Wyk added Toshiba’s second try in the 16th minute as Leitch and his fellow forwards sucked in enough Canon defenders to create a back overlap out wide.
(Yu Tamura, right)
The Eagles dominated much of the rest of the half but some good defense from the Brave Lupus ensured all Canon had to show for it was two penalties by Tamura as the teams turned around with Toshiba leading 14-11.
The second stanza saw both teams put boot to ball as the muggy conditions began to take a toll.
Mike Harris added a penalty to his two first-half conversions to make it 17-11 in the 50th minute only for Canon to hit back with Toshiki Amano finishing off a good counter-attack launched by Kenyu Fujimoto, Tamura’s conversion giving the Eagles a one-point lead.
It did not last long, though, as Harris once again bisected the poles with a penalty after the Eagles were penalized at the breakdown.
The final 20 minutes saw both sides try to force the other into making a game-changing mistake.
And it was Toshiba who erred first when they failed to field a kick from Tamura, who then added a drop goal from roughly the same place he had been practicing in the pre-match warm-up.
«You have to have certain things in place, and in our mind and maybe not everyone else’s, we knew this was going to be a close game,» said Coetzee.
«We knew we must have the drop goal option and Tamura is experienced. We knew we had a penalty advantage and knew he could go for it. The three points were the right option at the right time.»
And it was a drop-kick, albeit a failed one, that sealed the win when Yusuke Niwai charged down an attempt by Mike Harris in the 74th minute.
The Japan hooker did well to fly hack the ball upfield, and with the Eagles arriving in numbers, the ball went wide to Aiban Mishima, who touched down in the corner.
«It’s obviously very disappointing,» said Toshiba captain Richard Kahui.
«We were well prepared and very focused coming into the game. But we lost critical moments and when we had the opportunity to put pressure on them and score points we didn’t take it.»
(Akihito Yamada of Panasonic Wild Knights)
All — Kyodo News+