"Giving The Extra 1% Effort" - Match Report Round 9

On March 9th, Toyota Verblitz clashed with Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay at Hanazono Rugby Stadium in Higashiosaka City in Round 9 of the league, clinching a 31-27 victory and securing their overall standing at 6th place with 5 wins and 4 losses. With the temperature at nine degrees, fists were raised by the green jerseys in triumph at Hanazono Rugby Stadium, where snow even fell during the second half of the match. 

Described as an "arm wrestling match” by both team's head coaches during the post-match press conference, it was a physical battle where the forwards engaged in fierce combat. Toyota had suffered a tough defeat of 22-57 against Kobe Steelers in the previous round. On the other hand, last season's champion Spears, also struggled with injuries this season and had lost against Sagamihara Dynaboars. Both teams stood at 4 wins and 4 losses prior to this crucial match, each aiming for a comeback.

Toyota struggled in the first half. Despite getting into the opposition’s territory, they faced difficulties as their own mistakes held them back. The forward packs' desperate effort didn't convert into points. The first half ended with 7-8. In the locker room, Captain Kazuki Himeno rallied the team and said, "We made a lot of mistakes from here last week, leading to our downfall. We need to get ourselves right before we repeat the same mistakes.”

After the Kobe Steelers match, Captain Himeno had tough words for his teammates, saying, "We can't allow this to happen." Which is why in the week leading up to the game against Spears, he led by his actions. “I showed up early to get extra reps in, before anyone got to the field. After our session, I stayed out on the field for extras. When I got home, I wrote down what needed to be done in my notebook. Breakdowns, jackals… I worked on turning the weaknesses into strengths." It was leadership driven by passion.

His words echoed through the team. Flanker William Tupou collected the ball back on kickoff, and then fly-half Beauden Barrett made a short kick towards the try line. Full-back Taichi Takahashi cleverly scored off the bouncing ball just 19 seconds into the game. It was a play that erased the déjà vu of conceding a try to Kobe Steelers right at the start of the second half in the previous round.

In the 6th minute, Spears scored a try, but in the 9th minute, Aaron Smith stormed towards the opposition’s goal and scored. However, the try was canceled after a TMO review. Breaking the deadlock once again was the veteran Yoshikatsu Hikosaka. In the 10th minute, he charged down an opposition’s kick and scored directly, which he described, "It was a miracle (laughs). I just happened to be in a position to charge it down.”

As he mentioned in the press conference two days before the match, “If I can increase the opportunities to run with the ball, I think I can bring some momentum to the team.” It was exactly the play he envisioned. With this, the score became 21-13, swinging the momentum back.

However, an accident occurred in the 24th minute of the second half. Kenta Fukuda, who came on for Aaron Smith in the 17th minute of the second half, injured his leg in a breakdown and was carried off on a stretcher, leaving the team without the specialist for the remaining 20 minutes. Even in this situation, captain Himeno remained calm. “I said that we can't change what happened. We can't afford to make risky plays, so let's rely on the forwards and return to simplicity."

Charlie Lawrence had stepped up on duty to play scrum-half. He had no previous experience playing or training at the scrum-half position. Reflecting on the moment, Lawrence said "When I asked Aaron (who was on the sideline), 'How do I put the ball in?' he said, 'Just put it in straight.'"

In the 32nd minute of the second half, with the gap closed to 28-20, it was a scrum with their own goal line at their back. It could have been a moment of danger with the team in a disadvantageous position, but Charlie smoothly passed the ball out, and Barrett's kick pushed the Spears back into their territory. "Beauden said, 'Just pass it to the right,' so I did just that," said Lawrence. The united effort of the forwards and the calm number 12 shone brightly in the critical moment.

Although Verblitz conceded a try in the 41st minute, they secured victory with a score of 31-27. "After losing to Kobe, everyone tried to give 1-2% more,” said Captain Himeno. Six days ago, they left Hanazono Rugby Stadium with disappointment, but now they left with smiles. The experience of bouncing back in a short week will definitely be embedded in the team.

In the next round on March 16th, they will face Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, who is in 3rd place, at Toyota Stadium. Himeno mentioned, “First, we have to focus on ourselves. After we realized that things didn't go well against Kobe, the first thing we did was to look into ourselves which had a good effect, so that's what I want to focus on."

Everyone in the team continues to give that extra '1%' effort.




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