15:43 22 January 2016
Rugby: Panasonic, Toshiba final too close to call
TOKYO, Jan. 22, Kyodo
Panasonic Wild Knights coach Robbie Deans knows a thing or two about winning silverware.
But even the most successful coach in Super Rugby history is unsure who will claim this season's Top League crown.
"Only those that can afford to lose money should gamble," Deans said earlier this week ahead of Sunday's LIXIL Cup final between Panasonic and Toshiba Brave Lupus.
The final at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground pits the two most successful sides in league history against each other, and comes on the back of a 17-17 draw earlier this season that Deans described as a "world-class game."
Two-time defending champions Panasonic have won the crown on three occasions and have been runners-up four times, while Toshiba have five titles to their name and have never finished outside the top three.
"With all the problems the Toshiba group has had it has been a difficult season," said Brave Lupus coach Teppei Tomioka, in reference to the accounting scandal the company has faced.
"But that has given us motivation to win so we can show our appreciation to everyone involved with the Brave Lupus."
Toshiba defeated last year's runners-up Yamaha Jubilo in the semifinal with former All Black Richard Kahui bagging a hat-trick of tries.
And Tomioka was hoping for more of the same this week.
"In my mind I can see Panasonic leading at halftime. Then Richard scores a couple of tries and (Springbok) Francois (Steyn) kicks a couple of long-range penalties."
Panasonic captain Shota Horie and Deans both agreed that Kahui and Steyn were the danger men.
But Horie, whose side beat Kobe Kobelco Steelers to reach the final, also praised the Toshiba pack, saying, "They are very strong at the breakdown and in the set piece."
It was a point picked up on by Toshiba No. 8 and Japan captain Michael Leitch.
"We've got the upper hand in the set piece, so if we can put pressure on them there and slow their attack down, we can come out on top."
Deans said the final featured the "two best balanced teams in the league" and that the game would be decided by which team chanced their arm the most.
"At finals time there is a desperate nature to the game. The team that is prepared to take the risk will win," he said.
"If you hope to win but just kicking goals, that's not adequate. Tries are the reality and that's the way our team likes to play."
"But if Toshiba do stop us scoring tries and we kick enough goals to win by one point then we will be very happy."
Both sides named their 23-man squads Friday and both showed unchanged starting XVs.
Deans, however, was able to welcome back Berrick Barnes and Akihito Yamada from injury and the pair will start on the bench.
Barnes was league MVP the last two seasons and Yamada the playoff MVP.
Tomioka for one is hoping the pair and the Wild Knights don't make it three straight.
"Rugby doesn't provide that many upsets. If Toshiba win it will be a surprise to some, as Panasonic are looking for their third straight title. But I will be very happy to make that happen."