With the Top League season drawing to a close and Suntory being crowned champions, JRugbyPodcast caught up with Kyodo News journalist Rich Freeman, who gave his verdict on the best and worst from the 2017-2018 Top League season.
Lee: Who was the best player this season?
Rich: I think Lionel Cronje. He ended the season as top points scorer. I can’t understand why the South Africans haven’t picked him yet to play for them at fly half because they constantly talk about an issue they have with who plays at no.10 for the Springboks.
Reigning champions Suntory Sungoliath and last year’s finalists Panasonic Wild Knights maintained their 100% starts to the season with bonus point victories on the weekend.
A brace of tries from Suntory’s Matt Giteau and Kotaro Matsushima saw the defending champions see out a tight encounter in Conference A, beating the Ricoh Rams 31-15 on Friday evening.
After switching from rugby league to rugby union in 2014, the Fijian, Taqele Naiayaravoro’s career has been swift; playing for Glasgow Warriors and entertaining the idea of representing Scotland, before rejoining the Waratahs, and choosing to play for Australia instead. Since then he has scored his first try for the Wallabies against England, put in a man of the match performance for the Barbarians against South Africa, and has even been likened to the late Jonah Lomu due to his speed and power.
The 25 year old could be forgiven for letting things go to his head and enjoying the limelight a little, but Taqele remains as humble as ever. “When they said that comment of relating me to the late Jonah Lomu I was really surprised, and I said ‘Nah!’ He’s a legend and I don’t think anyone will ever get close to what he has done for rugby.”
Kubota Spears' win against the Ricoh Rams last weekend, 21-18, signalled a growing optimism around the Funabashi-based club and helped maintain a little distance between them and the relegation zone. After suffering from relegation in 2011, the current set of players and coaches are hoping to improve on their mid-table position and start climbing up the table.
We spoke with the former Highlanders player and current Kubota Spears Forwards Coach, Alando Soakai, about his team’s ambitions in the Top League.
“We’ve got Frans Ludeke that used to coach the Bulls in Super Rugby and it’s his first year coaching in Japan, so he’s bringing in fresh ideas, and trying to build the Kubota way of playing the game. We’ve got Haru Tatekawa, the captain of the Japan national team...who’s a great leader.”