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17:26 21 January 2017

Rugby: Smith, Pocock to go head-to-head in All-Japan C'ship final

OSAKA, Jan. 21, Kyodo

The 54th All-Japan Championship final will feature a match-up between two of rugby's greatest-ever back-row forwards following Saturday's semifinals at Hanazono Rugby Ground.

George Smith's Suntory Sungoliath remained on track for the league and cup double as they beat Teikyo University 54-29, while David Pocock's Panasonic Wild Knights downed Yamaha Jubilo 36-24 to set up the domestic season finale on Jan. 29.

Smith -- who has played 111 tests for Australia -- came off the bench for Suntory as the Top League champions withstood an early scare against the winners of the collegiate competition.

Inspired by fullback Seiya Ozaki, the students answered Suntory try-for-try in the first half to go into the break level at 21-21.

A brace of tries from Naoki Ozawa and one from Kosei Ono had seen Suntory, who had loaded their side with Teikyo graduates, lead 21-7.

But Teikyo hit back with Kosuke Horikoshi and Koki Takeyama adding to Kyo Yoshida's earlier effort.

The second half was a different affair though, as the professionals' fitness and strength came to the fore.

Shunta Nakamura powered over soon after the restart and he was followed onto the scoresheet by Takaaki Nakazuru and Kotaro Matsushima, who touched down twice, with Suntory also getting a penalty try.

Yoshida grabbed a second try for Teikyo -- again created by Ozaki -- and Rikiya Matsuda kicked a penalty to give the neutrals something to cheer about.

"Teikyo played really well today. They were physical and were top level in the way they moved the ball," said Suntory coach Keisuke Sawaki, who was not so pleased by his own team's performance.

"Our attitude toward the game as a representative of the Top League was shameful."

In the first game of the doubleheader, Pocock (66 caps for the Wallabies) helped Panasonic (third in the Top League) avenge their Opening Day loss to league runners-up Yamaha.

The Australian was instrumental in forcing a number of turnovers, allowing the Wild Knights backs to run rampant in the first half with Takuya Yamasawa, Richard Buckman and Kenki Fukuoka making the most of the ball that came their way.

Yamasawa showed just why he is so highly rated as he constantly troubled the Yamaha defense with his pace and clever kicking game.

The flyhalf created tries for Yasuki Hayashi and Akihito Yamada and finished the day with four conversions and a penalty to his name.

Fukuoka used his speed and strength and a good understanding with Buckman to score twice before returning the favor by creating a try for the New Zealander, whose sleight of hand and good reading of the game benefited the Wild Knights in both attack and defense.

With the game in the bag, the Wild Knights sat back a little in the second half and allowed Yamaha to add to Yuki Yatomi's first-half try through Shota Tanaka, Yuya Odo and Chikara Ito to ensure some respectability on the scoreboard.

"Our defense was very good and our finishing was very good and both needed to be against a good Yamaha side," said Panasonic coach Robbie Deans.

Suntory, who have won six All-Japan titles, beat the Wild Knights, who have five, 45-15 in Round 4 of the recently completed Top League.

But Sungoliath captain Yutaka Nagare is under no illusions.

"Panasonic are getting stronger. It will be a battle of guts," he said.

==Kyodo

  • Rugby: Smith, Pocock to go head-to-head in All-Japan C'ship final
  • Rugby: Smith, Pocock to go head-to-head in All-Japan C'ship final
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