Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rugby Sevens coming to Tokyo

On Sunday, I made a final visit to Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium as Top League Rugby was finishing its season with two interesting matches. As a quick refresher, the league has 14 teams who play each other once. The top 4 make the playoffs while the bottom 2 are sent to a lower league. Other squads have post-season games as well, either to make the All-Japan Championship or to avoid being relegated.

The first tilts featured first-place Suntory Sungoliath taking on 6th-ranked Kobelco Steelers, who needed a victory to make the playoffs. Sadly for them, a late Suntory try led to a 32-28 final, allowing the Sungoliath to finish first with a sparkling 12-1 record. It was the best rugby match I have seen in this league, with several lead changes and lots of hard hitting. There's nothing like sitting close to the field in rugby and hearing the sound of bodies colliding without the protection of shoulder pads or other equipment. Interestingly, the Steelers were dressed in red, while the Sungoliath were in yellow and black.

A penalty goal for Steelers

The second game promised to be equally entertaining as third-place Toshiba Brave Lupus were taking on last year's champs, the second-ranked Panasonic Wild Knights. These two teams were had won the last three championships as you can see above.

However, with playoff spots already decided, this game had little meaning as the two squads would meet in a semi-final two weeks hence. With no advantage accruing to the 2nd-place finisher, Panasonic seemed happy to avoid injury and were hammered 59-25. That is a Panasonic try below, scored when the game was still relatively close. This article summarizes the days events rather well.

Chichibunomiya is my favourite stadium in Japan, because you can sit so close for two games, at just 1,500 yen. There's no bench to separate you from the action and no screen to mar the view. Sitting near the try line is the best as that is where the real hard-hitting action takes place, as you can see below. I will miss this place.

The Top League playoffs happen while I am out of town, but I'll post an update here.

Now on to the bigger news: Rugby Sevens is coming to Tokyo! This is the tour that features teams of 7 men rather than the usual 15 you see in rugby union. It has long been a fixture in Hong Kong among other locales, but hasn't been in Tokyo since 2001. Games are fast-paced and last just 15 minutes, so over the weekend (March 31 and April 1) there will be 44 matches. I'm hoping to attend one day as I've never seen it live before and have heard nothing but good things. It is supposed to be great fun for the fans with lots of crazy antics, but I'm not sure how the Japanese will react.

Next Up

I'm flying to LA tonight, an overnight flight from Haneda. I get there too late to see something, but will start the sports watching with an NBDL game on Wednesday. As always, check back regularly for updates.



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