Frans Steyn and JP Pietersen will go head-to-head in the Japanese Top League final on Sunday, reports OLIVER TRENCHARD in Tokyo.
Only a brave man would bet on the outcome of Sunday’s showdown between Steyn’s Toshiba Brave Lupus and Pietersen’s Panasonic Wild Knights, to be broadcast on SuperSport 1 from 06:55.
The Wild Knights are searching for a third consecutive Top League title and have been in sensational form throughout the course of the campaign, remaining undefeated for the duration of the regular season.
The 29-year-old Bok winger, who will wear the Wild Knights No 13 jersey on Sunday, scored three tries in his six starts during the regular season before surging over the line for a late try in last weekend’s semi-final against Andries Bekker’s Kobe Kobelco Steelers.
The Brave Lupus are the only Top League club to have qualified for the final four of the post-season play-off tournament in every season since the league’s inception in 2003. The Tokyo-based club have a record five titles to their name in the Top League era.
Steyn, who will start at fullback in the final, hasn’t enjoyed the best of kicking games this season, successful with just 58% of his 17 attempts, often alternating kicking duty with 24-year-old scrumhalf Takahiro Ogawa, who may be preferred as first-choice kicker on Sunday.
The Springbok duo are no strangers to one another having turned out for both the national team and the Sharks. They last lined up together when the Sharks were defeated 38-6 by the Crusaders in the Super Rugby semi-finals in July 2014.
Both will be keen to sign off their careers in Japan with a bang. Steyn will join French outfit Montpellier after the season, while Pietersen will move to the Leicester Tigers in England.
Panasonic Wild Knights – 15 Yasutaka Sasakura, 14 Tomoki Kitagawa, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Yasuki Hayashi, 11 Kentaro Kodama, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Holani Ryu Koliniasi, 7 Tadasuke Nishihara, 6 Youngnam You, 5 Daniel Heenan, 4 Kotaro Yatabe, 3 Naoki Kawamata, 2 Shota Horie (c), 1 Keita Inagaki.
Subs: 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 Brave Lupus – 15 Frans 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.
Subs: 16 Tomohiro Kubo, 17 Futoshi Mori, 18 Yu Chinen, 19 Songchang Lee, 20 Steven Bates, 21 Jun Fujii, 22 Nicholas Kraska, 23 Shohei Toyoshima.
Photo: Japan Rugby Magazine