Never forget the frustration, never stop growing.

On March 17th, Toyota Verblitz faced Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath at Toyota Stadium in the 10th round of League One. The game, which gathered the record-breaking number of League One spectators at 34,568, saw the lead changing hands multiple times and ended in a 38-39 defeat for Verblitz.

The scoreboard changed rapidly throughout the intense 80 minutes. Sungoliath coach Kiyonori Tanaka reflected, "After the game, I felt it was a tough game to the point where my legs cramped." The spectators, filling the stands to the top row, were treated to a thrilling match that kept them glued to the action until the very end.

Toyota's weapon against Sungoliath was their fast passing game. They utilized quick passes from the beginning, slicing through the opposition’s defense. In the 5th minute, wing Yuichiro Wada, playing his second starting game, charged the opposition’s kick. As he received the pass, he sprinted along the sideline and gave the ball to Isaiah Mapusua to earn the team's first try. In the 16th minute, full-back Taichi Takahashi received a pass from scrum-half Aaron Smith and slipped through the defender’s gap, scoring his 10th try, placing him second in the try rankings. In the 6th minute of the second half, Takahashi broke through again, connecting with Aaron Smith for another try. With Beauden Barrett's conversion, the score was 31-10, giving Toyota a 21-point lead.

However, the high-intensity sequence of play have drained the team’s energy. "After the 10th minute of the second half, I felt they were slowing down," said Sungoliath captain Kosuke Horikoshi. Gradually, Toyota started accumulating penalties. They found themselves under pressure, struggling to regain control in the contact zone. Even when kicking off into the opposition’s half, Verblitz was penalized at the breakdowns, leading to a cycle of penalties and being pushed back into the corder by their kicks. Verblitz conceded three consecutive tries in the 11th, 16th, and 22nd minutes, bringing the score to 31-29. In the 28th minute, Mikiya Takamoto's penalty goal reversed the scoreboard, making it 31-32.

However, Toyota brought in their substitutions on to fight back. After a continuous physical battle for half an hour, in the 39th minute, Beauden Barrett attempted a difficult penalty goal. The ball rebounded off the post, caught by Shuhei Yamaguchi, who managed to cross the line to score a crucial try. "It could have been wasted energy, but since I came on in the second half, I thought, ‘I’ve got to do it,' and the ball literally rolled to me," said Yamaguchi. Barrett's conversion was successful, leading to a 38-32 turnaround in the final minutes.

If Verblitz had held on for one more play, they could have won the game. However, they failed to catch the kickoff, forcing them to defend Sungoliath’s final attempt. Also, Gaku Shimizu's tackle was deemed dangerous, resulting in a yellow card (later changed to a red). With one player short, Sungoliath opted for a scrum near the goal line. From there, Naoto Saito scored a try under the post. Takamoto's conversion was successful, and they reversed the score again to 38-39.

The number of penalties in the second half made the difference. Verblitz had 11 penalties compared to their 4. Captain Kazuki Himeno said, "We still lack discipline. Even in training, we see offsides and not rolling away… areas that we compromise. We need to create an environment where such things are not tolerated." Discipline has long been an issue for Verblitz. "Raising awareness of penalties should be the focus for the next game. But, creating a culture is about our own actions. It takes time," said Himeno.

After the game, Himeno rushed to Shimizu, who was on the sideline. "I understand how he feels. It's about how we grow from that. I told him to ‘keep your head up.’” In his second year as captain in 2018, Himeno received a sin-bin in the 84th minute of the Top League opening match. They conceded a penalty try in the 89th minute, losing 25-27 in a comeback. The location was Toyota Stadium. Interestingly, the opposition was also the Sungoliath. The youngster who shed tears six years ago has since become a prominent player representing Japan. 

Never forget the frustration, never stop growing. The team faces head-on what was lacking to earn victory and moves forward.




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