Beauden Barrett and Marika Koroibete score doubles while Bryn Gatland’s costly miss dents Kobelco Kobe Steelers hopes

Lawrence Nolan
Bryn Gatland kicking for Kobelco Kobe Steelers.

Bryn Gatland kicking for Kobelco Kobe Steelers.

Both Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath and Yokohama Canon Eagles firmed up their hold on the third and fourth semi-final places in Japan Rugby League One at the weekend, with emphatic 60-10 and 52-33 wins over Mie Honda Heat and Hanazono Kintetsu Liners respectively.

Australian-born back-rower Tamati Ioane scored twice in just his fourth outing for Sungoliath, filling in for the injured Sam Cane.

Ioane’s brace helped Sungoliath establish a 38-5 lead 10 minutes after half-time as the Heat wilted in Tokyo. Winger Seiya Ozaki, who also took his tally for the campaign to 11, was a double try-scorer for the second week running, while scrum-half Naoto Saito chipped in with two during the emphatic nine-try-to-two victory.

12th loss of the campaign

The Heat’s 12th defeat of their season – their only win was over the hapless Liners – consigned them to a place in next month’s Replacement Battle where they will try to defend the Division One status they achieved during last year’s series.

The Liners will be with them, after shipping another half-century to the Canon Eagles. While Kintetsu are scoring plenty of points – this latest loss was the fifth time they have exceeded 25 – they are conceding them at a far greater rate, which will be a major concern for coach Shogo Mukai as they use their final three matches of the regular season to prepare for the promotion/relegation games.

Yokohama have no such problems, with Fijian-born centre Viliame Takayawa running in enough tries for a bonus point all on his own. Takayawa scored three of Yokohama’s four first half tries – the other going to his Springbok midfield partner Rohan Janse van Rensburg – as well as his side’s final score of the night, which ensured that a brave second-half fightback by Kintetsu wouldn’t deny the Eagles. Takayawa now has 11 for the season.

Two more for Wallaby wing

Up the road in Tokyo, Wallaby winger Marika Koroibete was at it again, bagging his second two-try haul in a week as the Saitama Wild Knights savaged Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo, winning 50-26 and keeping their lead place in the table.

While the competition leaders eased off the gas in the second half – something coach Robbie Deans won’t be especially happy about – a 33-7 lead after 32 minutes meant the game was effectively over well before his troops lowered their defensive guard.

Although they conceded two tries in each half, the Wild Knights scored seven in all, and had blown out to 50-14 entering the final 10 minutes before the Black Rams took advantage to provide their loyal Friday night crowd with some late cheer.

The only one of the top quartet thus not to win was the Toshiba Brave Lupus, who confirmed themselves as semi-finalists despite stumbling to a thrilling 40-40 draw against Kobelco Kobe Steelers.

The stumble might have been more significant had Steelers fly-half Bryn Gatland not missed a conversion with the last kick of the game.

Perhaps inspired by the emotion surrounding last week’s death of Saimone Mo’unga, the father of their All Black backline star Richie, Brave Lupus came out of the changing sheds full of energy, rocking their visitors with a try in the third minute by inside centre Nicholas McCurran.

‘I’ve recently been diagnosed’ – Blues star reveals cancer battle

It set the tone for a breathless first half where the competition’s second-placed side dominated, ruthlessly punishing their error-prone opponents with several long-range tries on their way to a 33-14 half-time advantage.

It took Kobe 24 minutes to register a point, by which time they trailed 19-0, and that was still the margin by the break, with New Zealand full-back Michael Collins ending the half with two of his side’s five tries, against the two registered by the Steelers.

The second of those was scored by influential back-rower Amanaki Saumaki, who finished with two, and was at the heart of a completely different Kobe side that emerged for the second period and played like a team whose season depended on the outcome.

Under relentless pressure, a gallant Brave Lupus finally gave ground, with three tries in the final 20 minutes – which included six added minutes after the hooter had sounded – putting Kobe in a position to win the match, before Gatland’s missed conversion denied them two potentially season-defining competition points.

Mo’unga’s understudy Takuro Matsunaga performed admirably, critically succeeding with five of his six attempts on goal, several of which were from wide angles. But after another frustrating afternoon for Kobe, the Kansai club lies seven points outside of the top four with games against Kubota, Shizuoka and Honda to come.

Brace for Beauden Barrett

The four other mid-table teams in Japan all played each other. Beauden Barrett scored his first two tries for Toyota Verblitz, who beat Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars 34-20 to move back into the top half of the table and keep their wafer-thin semi-final hopes alive.

The tries, which were among the 32-year-old’s 19-point contribution, placed a full-stop on a difficult three weeks for the 123-cap international, after he was red-carded for a dangerous tackle during Toyota’s 24-8 humbling by Shizuoka Blue Revs, which forced him to sit out last week’s win over Hanazono Kintetsu Liners due to suspension.

Both Barrett’s tries came in the second half, with centre Yuichiro Wada also crossing twice, as Verblitz eventually drew away from the Dynaboars after Mitsubishi had held Toyota to an 8-3 half-time advantage and then rattled off two quick-fire tries early in the second half to lead 17-8.

The Dynaboars are now safe from relegation but have no chance of a semi-final. Nor do Kubota Spears, who drew 31-31 with Shizuoka BlueRevs, scoring 31 points in the first half but being held scoreless in the second as the home side fought back to gain a share of the spoils.

In a dramatic finish, the defending champion Spears ended the contest with 13 players after prop Yota Kamimori and fly-half Bernard Foley were sin-binned in the final 10 minutes, with the Blue Revs making the most of their two-man advantage to score two tries, the first of which was claimed by the competition’s leading try-scorer Malo Tuitama.

The 28-year-old found the try-line for the 15th time with six minutes to play, and second-rower Vueti Tupou completed the comeback when he scored two minutes into added time.

Shizuoka winger Keagen Faria had the chance to win it for the BlueRevs scuffed the final conversion from a nearly in front – having converted the previous one from the sideline just minutes before.

READ MORE: Who’s hot and who’s not: Superstars shine in Champions Cup, Peter O’Mahony signs on and chaos in Super Rugby Pacific… again