Panasonic win another Top League title

Date published: January 24 2016

Francois Steyn’s missed conversion was the difference between Panasonic Wild Knights and Toshiba Brave Lupus in the 2015/16 Top League final as Panasonic narrowly ran out 27-26 winners to clinch their third successive title in front of a capacity crowd at Tokyo’s Chichibunomiya stadium.

Converted tries for both Panasonic back-row Tadasuke Nishihara and Japan captain Michael Leitch brought the score to 7-7 after just ten minutes. Hiroshi Yamamoto then crossed the line for Toshiba after one of their trademark driving mauls.

Wild Knights made their first-half territorial dominance pay when Japan international Shota Horie picked a hole in the Toshiba defence to touch down under the posts.

New Zealand-born Hayden Parker converted and struck a late first-half penalty to hand Lupus a narrow 17-14 at the interval and maintain the stand-off’s 100 percent success-rate this season.

In the second half, an explosive break from Japan scrum half Fumiaki Tanaka guided Panasonic to within inches of the Toshiba line. Horie picked from the ruck and offloaded to JP Pietersen and the Springbok crossed the line to make it 27-14.

Nicolas Kraska, a Frenchman born in Thailand and on as a replacement, gave Lupus fans some late hope, darting 20 metres for Toshiba’s third try, converted, and they were suddenly just six points behind Panasonic.

Four seconds remained on the clock when Toshiba were awarded a scrum in their own half and allowed one final throw of the dice.

A hopeful and seemingly wayward kick into the corner by All Blacks international Richard Kahui bounced fortuitously into the path of Shohei Toyoshima, who touched down 90 seconds after the hooter had sounded to put Toshiba within a points’ reach of Panasonic.

Steyn, in his final game for Toshiba before joining Montpellier, was wayward with the decisive kick though and the cup went to Wild Knights.

The scorers:

For Panasonic:
Tries: Nishihara, Horie, Pietersen
Cons: Parker 3
Pens: Parker 2

For Toshiba:
Tries: Leitch, Yamamoto, Kraska, Toyoshima
Cons: Ogawa 3

Panasonic: 15 Yasutaka Sasakura, 14 Tomoki Kitagawa, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Yasuki Hayashi, 11 Centro Kodama, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Holani Ryu Koliniasi, 7 Tadasuke Nishihara, 6 Youngnam You, Daniel Heenan, 4 Kotaro Yatabe, 3 Naoki Kawamata, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Tatsuhiko Muroi, 17 Jungo Kikawa, 18 Holani Ryu Sioape Latu, 19 Ben Mccalman, 20 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Berrick Barnes, 23 Akihito Yamada

Toshiba: 15 Francois Steyn, 14 Toshiaki Hirose, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Keisuke Masuda, 11 Shuhei Oshima, 10 Yoshikazu Morita (c), 9 Takahiro Ogawa, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Hiroki Yamamoto, 6 Hiroshi Yamamoto, 5 Naohiro Kotaki, 4 Keisuke Matsuda, 3 Takuma Asahra, 2 Hiroki Yuhara, 1 Masataka Mikami
Replacements: 16 Tomohiro Kubo, 17 Futoshi Mori, 18 Yu Chinen, 19 Songchang Lee, 20 Hitoshi Ono, 21 Jun Fuji, 22 Nicolas Kraska, 23 Shohei Toyoshima

by Oliver Trenchard in Tokyo