"The Battle on the Turf"

Twenty minutes after the end of the match, Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo No.8 and captain Michael Leitch appeared in the press conference room, visibly exhausted. "It was tough," he said, and even during the brief moments before the press conference began, he sat down in a nearby chair. The battle had been so intense that it left the four World Cup veterans extremely fatigued.

On January 27th, a clash between Toyota Verblitz and Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo took place at Toyota Stadium. It was not only the first game on the newly replaced turf since the Rally Japan 2023 held in November but also attracted a crowd of 18,619 spectators to the stands. 

Known traditionally for their physical style of play, both teams engaged in a rapid and heavy collision from kick-off. The outcome of the exciting match was determined by the "endurance" shown in the final minutes.

Toyota Verblitz started the game as planned. While the Brave Lupus uses precise passes in the mid-field to attack out wide, Toyota Verblitz shows their resilience in defense by hitting fast and hard to shut down the opposition’s attack. In the 8th minute, scrum-half Kenta Fukuda goes for a quick tap from a penalty, to set Taichi Takahashi to score the first try for the team. Fukuda stated, “It’s the scrum-half’s job to dins where the space is. Taichi gave me a good call, so I trusted it and made the right decision.” The continuous intense contact has seen players from both teams frequently going down. Fly-half, Beauden Barrett left the field in the 16th minute with a leg injury. Fullback Tiaan Falcon moved to fly-half, and Rintaro Maruyama shifted to fullback, forming the same combination as in the previous season’s game against Hino Red Dolphins. Later, Brave Lupus scored a try, Toyota conceded a penalty and ended the first half trailing 7-10.

At halftime, BL Tokyo's coach Todd Blackadder's instructions were to "apply pressure on the opposition with the kicking game." With kicks from All-Blacks fly-half Richie Mo'unga, Toyota Verblitz found themselves under pressure in territory management. The whistle also goes against Toyota’s favor which increases the penalty counts around the breakdown. Conceding a penalty again in the 10th minute, Toyota fell behind by 6 points. Immediately after in the 11th minute, wing Viliame Tuidraki intentionally slapped the opposition’s ball, resulting in a temporary suspension for 10 minutes. However, even in the period with one player short, in the 17th minute, wing Taichi Takahashi scored his second try of the day from a scrum near the goal line. Toyota chases the scoreboard 12-16.

Unable to break out of their own territory due to penalties, in the 28th minute, lock Isaiah Mapusua received a yellow card for repeated penalties. Immediately after, Toyota conceded a try from a penalty near their own goal, widening the lead to 12-23. In the midst of fatigue due to intense contact from the start and being at a numerical disadvantage, options for breakthroughs were limited.

The final score was 12-28, with Brave Lupus adding another try, maintaining their undefeated streak. Leitch, who never stopped fighting until the end, mentioned, "Good plays followed by repeated mistakes. However, within that, what was good was that we maintained discipline for the entire 80 minutes." In the second half, Toyota lost 11 penalties, while Brave Lupus only had four. Captain Kazuki Himeno mentioned, "We had simple penalties and couldn't reverse the momentum.” The comments of both captains overlapped, revealing both sides of the story.

Hooker Yoshikatsu Hikosaka mentioned, "We were able to move forward. The scrum wasn't bad. The feeling is not that of defeat." The firsthand experience of a player in the front row adds credibility. Captain Himeno also stated, "We showed good energy, and we tried to do what we could." The fierceness of moving forward and the skills to secure tries with instant decisions were demonstrated. Therefore, the challenges are also clear. "We need to listen to the referee's calls and take responsibility ourselves. We have to play smarter." Captain Himeno looked into themselves. With this, the sixth round concluded with 3 wins and 3 losses, placing them in 8th position. 

In February, the schedule of League One becomes irregular due to the "Cross-Border Matches" involving last season's top four teams. Toyota Verblitz will face the Mie Honda Heat at Paloma Mizuho Rugby Stadium on the 17th. The regular schedule will resume in March. There is enough time to rest, refresh, and address the challenges faced so far. 10 games go, and the second opening begins. 

- Akio Toyoda (Chairman of the Toyota Motor Corporation) appeared on site to support the Verblitz. 




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