"The Akiyama Brothers' Showdown." Toyota secures 8 tries to earn the victory against Honda Heat.

On February 17th, Toyota Verblitz faced off against Mie Honda Heat, who secured promotion to Division 1 this season, at the Paloma Mizuho Rugby Stadium. Toyota managed to secure victory with an impressive 54-7 scoreline, notching up 8 tries and bringing their overall record to 4 wins and 3 losses.

It was the inaugural “Tokai Region Automotive Derby" in League One. Similar to their 3rd round match against Sagamihara DB, Toyota struggled against their opponent's resilient defense in the first half. This season, Heat’s Head Coach, Kieran Crowley, a former All-Black and ex-head coach of the Italian national team, emphasized building the team around a solid defensive concept despite joining the team post-World Cup, leaving little time for preparation.

From the outset, Toyota's heavy forwards combined speed and power, engaging in fierce contact without any hesitation in the physical collisions. However, despite dominating possession and territory, Toyota initially struggled to breach the opposition's line. Yet, the number 14 jersey puts his hand up to save the day.

In the 21st minute of the first half, during a line-out near the opposition’s goal line, lock Daichi Akiyama, making his season debut, caught the ball and offloaded to flanker William Tupou, who charged straight into wing Taichi Takahashi, scoring a try. This move sliced through the opposition’s defense that had previously held firm. Both Tupou and Takahashi had participated in the Japan squad camp earlier in February. Takahashi, tasked by Japan's head coach Eddie Jones to "score a try in every match," completed his mission. Despite facing continued resistance from Honda Heat, Toyota steadily added more tries, eventually securing victory with a 54-7 scoreline. Takahashi's standout performance, where he scored three tries, earned him the Player of the Match award.

Prop Kizu Yusuke and lock Daichi Akiyama, who were injured during the preseason, also made their first starts of the season. Kizu showcased his prowess through his 50th minute of involvement in the game. His moment came 5th minute into the 2nd half when having their try line behind a scrum, they had conceded a penalty in the previous scrum but managed to win the scrum reset by collapsing the opposition’s scrum. It was a heroic play in a crucial moment where conceding points could have shifted the momentum. "Everyone pushed with the mentality to get a penalty. I'm glad we were able to scrum in a way that will boost the team's momentum,” said Kizu.

Daichi Akiyama also contributed in attack, including providing a brilliant offload to set Isaiah Mapusua for a try in the 41st minute of the second half. After the match, head coach Ben Herring smiled and commented, "(Daichi) Akiyama was especially motivated today." His older brother, Yoji, who was the inspiration for him to start playing rugby, was on Honda Heat’s bench. He came on as a substitute in the second half and the first brotherly showdown in League One had taken place.

The match-up lasted for 10 minutes. Arose from a scrum initiated by Honda Heat, Daichi went for the tackle but the older brother, Yoji passed the ball. "I was keen for the showdown. I was trying to find out where he was, and even if I was out of position, I was trying to make a tackle, but he passed the ball," said Daichi. His older brother Yoji added, "If there was an opportunity, I wanted to carry the ball, but there's the team's tactics first."

Daichi responds, "Since we couldn’t see who won the physical battle this time, I'm looking forward to the next opportunity. I always want to challenge my older brother." Yoji, who is five years older than his younger brother, is in his 10th year as a League One rugby player. “There have been times when I couldn't play, but I was motivated by my younger brother and worked hard because I wanted to play against him,” he said. Both are eagerly awaiting their encounter in Division 1 next season.

With the conclusion of the February league games, the team faces a tough battle ahead with four consecutive matches starting from March 3rd against Kobelco Kobe Steelers, followed by a five-game stretch with a bye week in between. Head Coach Ben Herring expressed in confidence, saying, "This season, the bye week was long, so we've been able to build up our strength during that time." Captain Kazuki Himeno emphasized the importance of the balance between on and offs and maintaining energy and motivation.

With experienced players returning to contest for positions and young players like wing Wada Yuichiro making their debut in their second year with the team, the depth of the squad has increased. Due to the cross-border match schedule, this season features an irregular schedule with seven matches in the first three months and nine matches in the following two months. The key to achieving a top finish lies in maintaining a high standard of play throughout the long season ahead. 




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