Read the full story on SportsLook - [JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Spears Capture Japan Rugby League One Title
A new Japan Rugby League One champion was crowned on Saturday afternoon, May 20.
The Kubota Spears edged the Saitama Wild Knights 17-15 at Tokyo's National Stadium to conclude the league's second season.
Reigning champion Saitama, which was unbeaten in its 16 regular-season matches, trailed 9-3 at halftime. Wild Knights head coach Robbie Deans' club fell short in its spirited comeback effort in the nation's capital before an announced crowd of 41,794.
A pair of Bernard Foley penalty kicks in the 20th and 26th minutes gave the Spears a 6-0 lead near the midway point of the first half.
Saitama's Rikiya Matsuda cut the lead in half with a successful penalty in the 34th minute.
Moments later, Kubota's Foley, a 33-year-old Australian, answered with his third penalty of the half to put the Spears ahead 9-3.
Strong kicking played a pivotal role in the Spears' match tactics, notably in the first half.
"You could see with our kicking game [that] we applied pressure, and they really felt it," Spears coach Frans Ludeke said, according to Kyodo News. "We showed for 80 minutes our game control."
And that continued after the break.
A Dramatic Second Half of Rugby
Six minutes into the second half, a Foley penalty extended the lead to 12-3.
The Wild Knights then seized momentum, getting tries from longtime national team player Shota Horie (58th minute) and Tomoki Osada (65th). Takuya Yamasawa nailed a two-point conversion after the first of those tries, then missed the second one. Saitama led 15-12 after Osada's try.
In the 69th minute, 24-year-old Haruto Kida saved the day for the Wild Knights, rumbling across the goal line for a try, accounting for the final score of the championship match. Teammate Harumichi Tatekawa, a veteran center back, kicked a precise pass to Kida to set up a golden scoring opportunity.
Tatekawa was named the Man of the Match.
In analyzing the outcome of the match, a disappointed Deans said his team didn't play at its best.
"As is the case in every competitive final, you need to take every opportunity," Deans was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. "We had ample opportunities but did not take them."
The coach added, "We lacked composure, and that hurts."
Motivation for 2023 Rugby World Cup
After the match, Australian Foley reminded reporters of his ambition to play for the Wallabies at the upcoming 2023 Rugby World Cup. He said he hopes his performance in the League One final and other matches this season will help him land a spot on Australia coach Eddie Jones' squad.
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Author: Ed Odeven