"The opportunity has come" : Round 7 Honda Heat Preview

Toyota Verblitz will see the return of the two reliable members, prop Yusuke Kizu, and lock Daichi Akiyama in their match-up against the Honda Heat. It's been three weeks since their last game. Both players, who hold caps for the Japanese national team, suffered from conditioning issues during the preseason and were on the rehab list at the start of the season. Kizu made his comeback in the match against Saitama Wild Knights on January 6th, while Akiyama returned to the lineup in the Mirai match against Urayasu D-Rocks on February 9th, just in time for the second half of the season.

Akiyama, who started in every match last season, experiences being sidelined for the first time this year. In his absence, young players like Ryusei Koike and Isaiah Mapusua stepped up and performed well in the starting lineup. Akiyama expressed his desire to return to the field, saying, "I've always had the desire and frustration of wanting to play, and I want to channel that into the game." Akiyama's older brother, Yoji, who was the inspiration for Akiyama to start his rugby career, also made it to the Heat's match-day squad. This sets the stage for a potential sibling rivalry, marking the first brotherly showdown in the league.

Kizu, who played in 13 matches last season, faced tough competition within the prop ranks, leading to a delay in his return to official matches after his January comeback. Reflecting on his time off, Kizu realized the need to simplify his approach to the game. He said, "There was intense competition for the number three position, and it made me rethink how I approach the game.” He focused on the basics, like making simple tackles and driving forward in scrums, which helped him regain his form. 

With only one match against Honda in February due to cross-border match commitments, the return of the team's two key forwards in February comes as a relief as they brace themselves for a grueling schedule of nine matches in ten weeks, starting in March.

In the Honda match, hooker Ryusei Kato also made his first reserve appearance of the season, while wing Yuichiro Wada earned his first spot in the squad. Wada, who joined from Doshisha University two years ago, showcased his attacking skills from his first year, but he worked harder to improve his overall game, focusing on areas such as cohesion in the back three and tackle success rate. Wada describes his awaited debut as, “Finally the opportunity has come. It’s been a while. Ueno-san (assistant coach) and my senior players taught me how to tackle.”

Having spent some time in New Zealand last year, Wada gained confidence from fronting up against his youth-year stars like wing Waisake Naholo (now in MLR) in training games, which helped him grow as a player. Wada says, “I’d like to show my strength which is my running game and growth in defense.” Despite his shy personality off the field, with the ball in his hands, Wada’s strong running game surprises the people around him.

As the Tokai region Automotive Derby marks their first encounter in League One, the agility and running game on the field is worth the watch. 




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