Semi-finalists confirmed as Quade Cooper win promotion to League One in Japan
An array of stars from the All Blacks, Wallabies, Springboks and Brave Blossoms will battle for the inaugural Japan Rugby League One title after the competition’s semi-finalists are confirmed this weekend.
Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights, Kubota Spears Funasbashi-Tokyo Bay and Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo all qualified as Division 1 semi-finalists after the final round of the regular season.
Suntory, Panasonic and Kubota had all confirmed their places in the semi-finals before the last weekend of action, but Toshiba was in competition with Toyota Verblitz for the fourth and final place in the playoffs.
However, Toshiba’s place in the top four was all but confirmed when Toyota’s must-win clash against Suntory was called off due to a Covid outbreak in the Verblitz squad.
As such, Springboks duo Pieter-Steph du Toit and Willie le Roux, All Blacks lock Patrick Tuipulotu and Japanese star Kazuki Himeno were denied the chance to qualify for a place in the semi-finals as Suntory won all five competitions to cement their top-of-the-table place.
It means Suntory – headlined by All Blacks star Damian McKenzie and Wallabies pair Samu Kerevi and Sean McMahon – will face Toshiba in the semi-finals next week after Brave Lupus beat Shizuoka Blue Revs on Sunday. .
Former All Blacks Matt Todd and Seta Tamanivalu, as well as former Brave Blossoms captain Michael Leitch, all played for Toshiba in their 33-29 victory over loose Springboks striker Kwagga Smith’s Blue Revs.
The other semi-final will see Panasonic host Kubota for a second straight week after the Wild Knights beat the Spears 35-14 on Saturday.
Wallabies winger Marika Koroibete and former England lock George Kruis were among a plethora of Japan internationals at Panasonic’s side who defeated a Kubota side without former Wallabies pivot Bernard Foley, the former midfielder All Blacks Ryan Crotty and Springboks hooker Malcolm Marx.
On the other end of the spectrum, Wallabies greats Quade Cooper and Will Genia guided the Hanazono Kintetsu Liners to Division One promotion after helping to a 34-22 win over the Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars on Sunday.
The win sees Kintetsu finish the season as the top team in Division 2, meaning they earned automatic promotion to the top division of League 1 next year.
Mitsubishi and second-ranked Mie Honda Heat will now advance to promotion-relegation matches against the lower-ranked teams in Division One.
These squads have yet to be finalized after Saturday’s clash between NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes Osaka and Tokyo Black Rams was canceled due to a Covid outbreak in the Red Hurricanes squad.
League One officials have yet to determine how the competition points for this game will be split between the Red Hurricanes and the Black Rams, who both sit inside the Division One relegation zone alongside the NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu.
Should either team get all five points in the competition, they would overtake Israel Folau’s NTT Communications Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu after their heavy 74-34 loss to the Kobelco Kobe Steelers on Sunday.
Former All Blacks full-back Ben Smith, who partnered with Springbok star Lukhanyo Am in midfield, scored a try in the closing stages of this game to likely end his playing career and doom the Shining Arcs in ninth place.
That leaves Folau and his teammates, including former Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw, likely to fall into the relegation zone depending on how the canceled game between the Red Hurricanes and the Black Rams is handled.
Elsewhere, Toyota Shuttles Industries Aichi won promotion to next year’s Division Two after finishing this season as Division Three champions.
The Division 1 semi-finals and inter-divisional promotion-relegation matches will begin next weekend, with the first-ever Ligue 1 final to be held on May 29.
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