17:13 23 January 2016
Rugby: Green Rockets condemn Red Hurricanes to bottom spot
By Rich Freeman
TOKYO, Jan. 23, Kyodo
NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes discovered Saturday that signing high profile players on short-term contracts doesn't guarantee a turnaround in fortune as they finished bottom of the Top League following a 32-22 defeat to NEC Green Rockets at Komazawa Olympic Park.
Fortunately for Masahiro Shimooki and his team, the shortened season -- as a result of Rugby World Cup 2015 and the Sunwolves' entry into Super Rugby -- means they are not automatically relegated.
But they will need to be at their best next week if they are to beat the winners of the Top Challenge Series -- the playoff tournament for the top three regional champions and best runners-up--and stay in the top flight.
Munakata Sanix Blues currently head the TCS and should finish in No. 1 spot as they play bottom side Osaka Police on Sunday, while the game between Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars and Kyuden Volex is likely to determine who finishes second.
NEC (15th in the Top League) will play the winner of that game and Coca-Cola the loser.
In the second game of the day's doubleheader at Komazawa, the Red Sparks lost out on 13th spot as they went down 27-22 to Ricoh Black Rams, who -- barring a huge upset -- will take on the police next week.
Docomo splashed out the cash preseason for Springboks Eben Etzebeth, Handre Pollard and Jesse Kriel (who came in at short notice after injury forced Wallaby fullback Israel Folou to cancel his contract).
But the team have shown little cohesion and on Saturday looked far less hungry than the Green Rockets, who for the first time this season seemed to come in with a game plan, and as assistant coach Craig Newby pointed out, "then stuck to it."
Playing in front of Mark Hammett and the Sunwolves coaching team -- not to mention his father Makoto who is the Sunwolves general manager -- Yu Tamura played a big role in NEC's win.
The Japan utility back created tries for Koshiro Shuto and Koichiro Kubota and kept the scoreboard ticking over with his boot as NEC led 15-8 at the break.
A second try from Shuto and a five-pointer from Teruya Goto then ensured there was no way back for Docomo despite late tries by Kriel and Mifiposeti Paea.
The Docomo coaching team said while there had been communication issues with the foreign stars early on, that was not the reason for the poor season.
"Some of the (Japanese players) may have been a little over-awed playing with the foreigners but the real problem was the combinations didn't click and the team seemed mentally fatigued," said assistant coach Takuro Miuchi.
"The players haven't experienced such a short compact season and they seemed tired. We have lost confidence in ourselves and we need to regroup and rebuild for next week."
Further up the table, Toyota Verblitz beat Canon Eagles 48-17 for fifth spot, while Kintetsu Liners finished seventh after edging NTT Communications Shining Arcs 22-17 in the first ever playoff game to go to extra-time.
Springbok legend Fourie du Preez's final game as a professional lasted just 13 minutes, but he scored a try in that time as Suntory Sungoliath downed Toyota Industries 78-14 for ninth spot, while newly promoted Honda Heat topped Kubota Spears 45-38 to finish 11th.