"Mastering the Art of Patience"

On January 14th, Toyota Verblitz faced off against Hanazono Kintetsu Liners at Hanazono Rugby Stadium and secured a 47-14 victory. With a total record of 3 wins and 2 losses, Toyota currently holds the 5th position at the end of round five. Although Toyota marked 7 tries on the scoreboard, the real success of the game was seen in the scoreless periods.

The starting lineup announced two days prior to kick-off, featured the All Blacks duo of Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett, who have been playing since round one. On the other hand, Hanazono Liners set the former Wallabies halfback combination, Will Genia and Quade Cooper in their starting XV. Combined, Toyota had 248 caps compared to Hanazono Liners’ 186. The much-anticipated "Bledisloe Cup Showdown" saw a twist as Barrett was replaced by Tiaan Falcon due to health issues. This change also made Rintaro Maruyama to join the match day squad as a reserve after returning from an injury he picked up in round one. 

The opening was dramatic. Within the first 2 minutes, center Siosaia Fifita who got the ball on the opposition's 10-meter line, penetrated the defense line and used a short kick to secure the opening try against his former team.

Captain Kazuki Himeno commented, "The game plan worked well." Toyota built the game around the lineout, gaining an advantage in possession and taking control. Continuing the momentum, center Charlie Lawrence scored a try in the 11th minute, and by halftime, they secured 4 tries, leading 28-14.

Hanazono Liners, coached by Shogo Mukai, who served as the head coach of the Japanese national team in RWC 2003, has been working on rebuilding the team from a defensive perspective. Despite the winless season so far, experienced players such as flanker Shota Nonaka (captain) and lock Tsuyoshi Murata, along with the halfback duo, played together for the first time this round, indicating a well-thought-out strategy. 

"In terms of the flow of the game, I expected the first-half score to be around that. Toyota tends to have fewer points in the second half, so we wanted to bring it into a fitness battle," said Coach Mukai. The Liners placed their bet on the last 40 minutes. In the second half, Toyota approached the Liner’s try-line several times, but mistakes led to setbacks. Hanazono Liners also attempted to capitalize on Toyota's mistakes but failed to reach the finish line due to their own fouls. Both teams played through a scoreless period.

In the 22nd minute, a play emerged that swiftly changed the momentum. Despite being pressed deep into their own territory by the Liners outside back, the backline returned to stop them with Fifita getting involved in defence. Immediately after earning a penalty, scrum-half Kenta Fukuda decides to run and give the ball to Pieter Steph-du Toit, who not only breaks the line with his powerful running game but also shows a clever kick with his right foot to put his teammate, Taichi Takahashi in a position to score the first try of the second half. Shifting the score to 35-14.

“I think it was tough for the forwards after playing several phases, but I kept my focus on changing the flow in those moments. The quick tap worked because there was space behind it. Even if Pieter had been caught, I was in a position to receive the offload. In that sense, I think I managed to control the game in 'a calm head,' said Kenta Fukuda . Fukuda went on the pitch unexpectedly in the 15th minute of the first half due to Aaron Smith's early exit. Nonetheless, he mentioned, “I was aware Kintetsu's momentum on the breakdown before I got on, so my role was clear."

Captain Himeno also commented, "Rugby is not a sport where everything is perfect. When things don't go well, the team’s endurance becomes crucial. In the second half today, by connecting as a team, we were able to change the pace to our advantage. That was good." Even during the scoreless periods, the team continued to keep their feet on the ground. The attitude seen in the 21-minute without any shift in the scoreboard may have been the most Toyota has gained from this game.

With this, the first round of matchups within Conference B teams are finished. After the bye week, the cross-conference matches will begin. In the first match, Toyota will face Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo, who at the end of round five maintains an undefeated record, for the first time at Toyota Stadium on January 27th. "It will be a physical game. We'll use the bye week to get the body right,” said Head Coach Ben Herring.

“Historically, the Toyota and Toshiba matchups have always been physical. That’s our game. We want to make sure we take it easy next week physically and mentally to get ready,” said Captain Kazuki Himeno. Since the Top League, the Toyota and Toshiba showdown has not seen any hesitation in their physical collision. The next game is going to be crucial for the team to find themselves in the championships.

The spectators at Hanazono Rugby Stadium numbered 9,032. The passionate cheers from the Hanazono Liners fans, known as "Passengers,” have shown their love for the team. This time, it's our fans, so-called, VOLTS' turn to show their heart and spirit at Toyota Stadium.




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