"This is unacceptable" captain expressed his heartfelt emotions.

It was a heart-wrenching loss. On March 3rd, Toyota Verblitz faced off against Kobe Steelers at Hanazono Rugby Stadium in Higashiosaka. While trailing by a narrow margin of 12-15 at halftime, they ultimately succumbed to a 22-57 defeat after conceding consecutive tries 10 minutes into the second half. The clash featured a showdown between two of League One's finest forward packs. Despite an evenly contested battle of physicality, the final scoreline reflected a significant gap.

Steelers took the lead on the scoreboard. Ardie Savea, the former World Rugby Men's 15s Player of the Year and a new addition to the team, scored the opening try in the 12th minute. Earlier in the game, Verblitz found themselves under pressure at the breakdowns and scrums. "They put quite a bit of weight after the bind, and it took us some time to adjust," said prop Yusuke Kizu.

However, whenever the ball shifted from the ruck, the game favored Verblitz's pace. Strong runners spread the ball wide into the opposition’s territory. Viliame Tuidraki scored a try in the 26th minute, followed by Josh Dickson in the 30th minute, bringing the halftime score to 12-15. Early in the second half, despite conceding a try, Beauden Barrett's penalty goal, on his return after a month, closed the gap to seven points. Verblitz gradually regained momentum by turning the ball over in the breakdowns and building phases in the opposition’s half. However, just as Verblitz were poised to strike back, Steelers didn’t release their grip.

In the 12th minute, Steelers' winger Rakuhei Yamashita intercepted Beauden Barrett's pass and sprinted nearly 75 meters to score. "It wasn't something I specifically targeted. Their attack didn’t have an easy escape route, so it made it easier for me to press up. The inside defenders applied good pressure as well,” explained Rakuhei Yamashita. With the score now at 15-29, any hope of a Verblitz comeback seemed to fade away. At the 15-minute mark, Steelers' Yamashita intercepted Barrett's offload near the halfway line once again. This allowed Ardie Savea to score his third try, widening the scoreline to 15-36. "Watching Barrett's footage in Super Rugby, I noticed he often offloads with one hand when carrying the ball forward," added Yamashita.

If Verblitz had scored during those crucial moments, the game might have taken a different turn. However, the lost momentum was hard to regain. In the end, Verblitz conceded eight tries, resulting in a 22-57 defeat. Captain Kazuki Himeno expressed his disappointment during the post-match press conference. "It's extremely disappointing. I told the team after the game that this is unacceptable. We need to make changes. We usually say, let’s move on to the next game, but it’s not acceptable for me.”

The determined captain, Himeno himself scored a try in the 27th minute after the two tries conceded from interceptions. While it seemed like the beginning of a counterpunch, Verblitz could only watch as the red jerseys disappeared into the distance. His assessment of the game was straightforward. "We want to spend more time playing in the opposition’s half. Once we're within the 22-meter line, we can score. We attacked too much in the middle, resulting in a drop in accuracy and leaving us vulnerable to their counter attacks. We need to think more about the game balance in that area."

Spending an extended period in the middle gradually sapped their energy, allowing Ardie Savea, the X-factor player, to roam freely. Verblitz could have perhaps utilized kicks more frequently or found other ways to penetrate the territory. With this loss, the team’s overall record stands at four wins and four losses. They find themselves in 7th place, facing a challenging situation. "Becoming stronger means using these types of matches as learning experiences and growing without forgetting the frustration. That's everything," emphasized Captain Himeno. Barrett echoed similar sentiments. "The result is disappointing, but we need to switch our focus to the next game starting tomorrow. The most important thing right now is not losing confidence."

After the press conference, the players spent over an hour in the locker room before leaving the stadium. The departure time had long passed, marking an unusually prolonged period in the shed. Next up is a short week with only five days before they face last season's champions, Kubota Spears Tokyo Bay, at Hanazono. Each player's determination is already being put to the test.




  • 1000 / 1000