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July 24, 2016 11:48

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20:37 25 January 2016

Rugby: Horie named MVP as Panasonic dominate Top League awards

By Rich Freeman
TOKYO, Jan. 25, Kyodo

The silverware kept on coming for the Panasonic Wild Knights on Monday with the Top League champions dominating the trophies at the league awards ceremony.

A day after picking up their third straight Top League title, and fourth overall, captain Shota Horie was named league MVP, though the Japan hooker was quick to play down his contribution.

"I don't think I played as well this year as when I last won the award (back in 2011 when the Wild Knights were owned by Sanyo)," he said.

"I think as captain this was really a team award and is for all the unseen effort put in by all the members of the squad."

A season that began with Horie and the Brave Blossoms beating South Africa at Rugby World Cup 2015 finished in sensational style with Panasonic edging Toshiba Brave Lupus 27-26 in the LIXIL Cup final.

"It was a rollercoaster of emotions from complete despair to jubilation," said lock Daniel Heenan of the last-minute win achieved when Francois Steyn missed a conversion that would have won the game for Toshiba.

"You never feel good when someone misses a kick, We wanted to win the game on our own terms."

Heenan was one of seven Panasonic players named in the Best XV.

The Panasonic pair of Keita Inagaki, who played the final with 30 stitches in a head wound, and Horie were joined by Toshiba's Takuma Asahara in the front row.

Heenan joined forces with Springbok and Kobe Kobelco Steelers lock Andries Bekker in the engine room, the pair beating off the challenge of Rookie of the Year Naohiro Kotaki.

Both Heenan and Bekker confirmed to Kyodo News that they will be back in action for their respective clubs next season.

The back row, meanwhile, featured the future of Japan.

Brave Blossoms captain Michael Leitch was named at flanker along with the NTT Communications Shining Arcs pair of Shokei Kin and Amanaki Lelei Mafi.

The halfbacks were once again the Wild Knights' duo of Fumiaki Tanaka and Top Kicker Berrick Barnes with the midfield an All Black/Springbok partnership in Richard Kahui (Toshiba) and JP Pietersen.

"It's tough to say goodbye," said Pietersen who leaves Panasonic after three years and three league titles to play for Leicester Tigers in the English Premiership.

"I came here three years ago and didn't know the culture. But the team welcomed me to their hearts. It's a memory I will have forever."

Suntory Sungoliath's Shota Emi -- joint winner of the top try scorer award with Taiyo Ando of Toyota Verblitz -- was named on one wing along with Panasonic's Tomoki Kitawaga.

Ayumu Goromaru (Yamaha Jubilo) was named the best fullback and also won the top points-scorer award.

"It's been a tough season with all the media work following the World Cup," said Goromaru, who leaves next week for the Queensland based Reds.

"But it's been a great experience."

For most of the players, bar the Wild Knights who take on Teikyo University on Sunday for the All-Japan Championship, a quite extraordinary season is over.

"I never imagined we would have a season like this," said Horie, who gets very little time to take it all in as he will likely lead the Sunwolves when the Japanese team makes it Super Rugby debut on Feb. 27.

"If we never give up and give all we can then hopefully we can keep people interested in rugby," he said.

==Kyodo

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