17:40 9 January 2016
Rugby: Wild Knights ground Eagles in playoffs opener
By Rich Freeman
YOKOHAMA, Jan. 9, Kyodo
Panasonic Wild Knights remained on course for a third straight Top League title Saturday as they beat Canon Eagles 46-6 in the opening round of the LIXIL Cup, the playoff tournament to determine the league champions.
Panasonic coach Robbie Deans' team ran in four tries at Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium to set up a semifinal clash with Kobe Kobelco Steelers, who hammered Kintetsu Liners 42-10.
Wing Kentaro Kodama showed real pace to go over for a brace, Naoki Kawamata flopped over the line as only a tighthead prop could and lock Daniel Heenan galloped over like a giant giraffe, with man-of-the-match Hayden Parker adding four conversions and six penalties from as many attempts.
"We are delighted to get the win but most pleased with the way the team played," said Deans. "Canon are a capable attacking side and to keep them tryless was a good achievement."
The other final-four game sees last year's runners-up Yamaha Jubilo take on Toshiba Brave Lupus.
Yamaha got past NTT Communications Shining Arcs 26-7, while Toshiba beat Toyota Verblitz 29-17.
Meanwhile, in the first round of the playoffs to determine 9th to 16th in the league, Suntory Sungoliath thrashed Coca-Cola Red Sparks 52-7, Toyota Industries Shuttles topped Ricoh Black Rams 27-17, Honda Heat edged NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes 23-20 and Kubota Spears defeated NEC Green Rockets 30-20.
The winners are all assured of their places in the Top League next season while the losers -- once their final rankings are determined -- will play the top four sides from the regional leagues in one-off promotion-relegation playoff games.
In an entertaining game in the port city where the first rugby club in Japan was established 150 years ago, Canon were worth more than the six points they picked up through two penalties by Ryohei Mitomo either side of halftime.
But they were against a Wild Knights defense that was in no mood to loosen their grip on the Top League trophy that has been in their display case at their training ground in Ota, Gunma Prefecture, for the past two years.
"They put pressure on us and defended really well for 80 minutes," said Canon captain Kosuke Hashino.
"We were under pressure at the breakdown and just didn't have any space with which to attack."
Not even a very debatable yellow card to Heenan nor the Eagles playing for a brief moment with 16 players seemed to phase the Wild Knights.
Though it did lead to quite a few words from Panasonic captain Shota Horie after the game.
"For Japanese players to adapt to international rugby, the level of refereeing has to rise considerably here," he said.
"We are working really hard at improving as players and the referees and union need to do the same."
Panasonic may have been missing two-time league MVP Berrick Barnes, out with a slight hamstring strain, but they still had far too much class for the Eagles.
JP Pietersen showed early on just why he has a Rugby World Cup winner's medal and bronze medal, Heenan, Kawamata and the rest of the tight five worked tirelessly, and Kodama finished off his tries superbly.
"The great thing is we got everyone off the bench and prepared for the worst-case scenario thanks to the card and injuries, which meant we had a few players playing out of position," said Deans. "That will serve us well going forward."