Top League hat-trick for JP

JP Pietersen’s Panasonic Wild Knights won their third successive Top League title after beating Frans Steyn’s Toshiba Brave Lupus 27-26 in the final in Tokyo on Sunday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.

The high-quality game between two of the competition’s most decorated teams was fast paced from the start with lots of try-scoring entertainment. 

After setting up a dramatic stoppage-time try with a fantastic break down the left-hand side of the field to make the score 27-26, Steyn missed the touchline conversion that would have handed his side the title.

In a helter-skelter opening 10 minutes, Wild Knights flanker Tadasuke Nishiharo ran onto a defence-splitting pass from scrumhalf Fumiaka Tanaka to put the reigning champions in front. Hayden Parker, who kicked 10 from 10 in both the quarter-final and semi-final, was on target again with the conversion.

Up until that point, the Brave Lupus were under immense pressure. But they responded soon after, when No 8 Michael Leitch left three defenders in his wake to score a converted try under the posts to draw level. And it wasn’t long before they were in the ascendancy at 14-7 via a second converted try.

Having just had a try overturned because the ball-carrier had a foot in touch, the Wild Knights snuffled the Brave Lupus’s ball at the lineout and retorted beautifully. Shota Horie, the Sunwolves hooker, ran a brilliant line on the angle to score their second, before the successful conversion levelled matters.

Ill discipline inside their own half by the Brave Lupus was punished as Parker slotted a penalty either side of the break for a four-point lead going into the final quarter.

With his team under pressure in defence again, Steyn tried a chipped kick 5m from his own tryline, but Tanaka read the situation well and launched another Wild Knights attack. Two phases later Pietersen dotted down.

With the clock winding down, the Brave Lupus chanced their arm with a number of substitutions and it worked as replacement Nicolas Kraska cut the defence to shreds to score and get his team within six points with 10 minutes remaining.

Steyn then broke away from inside his own half before being brought down 5m short of the tryline. The ball was recycled quickly and with the Wild Knights defence still rushing back, Richard Kahui's well-weighted crosskick to the right was fielded by another substitute, Shohei Toyoshima, who did the rest. 

Steyn stepped up to take the conversion, but it was well wide as the Wild Knights escaped to clinch the championship for the third straight year and their fourth title overall. 

Panasonic Wild Knights – Tries: Tadasuke Nishihara, Shota Horie, JP Pietersen. Conversions: Hayden Parker (3). Penalties: Parker (2).
Toshiba Brave Lupus – Tries: Michael Leitch, Hiroshi Yamamoto, Nicolas Kraska, Shohei Toyoshima. Conversions: Takahiro Ogawa (3).

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

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Mariette Adams