The determination and belief to finish the game.

Toyota Verblitz announced their lineup for the match against Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights, which will take place at Paloma Mizuho Rugby Stadium on April 20th. The starting fifteen remain unchanged from the previous round. Isaiah Mapasa replaces Masato Furukawa as a reserve flanker. Captain Kazuki Himeno and winger Shuhei Yamaguchi attended the pre-match press conference.

On April 16th, it was announced that Ian Foster, who served as the head coach of the New Zealand national team in the last Rugby World Cup, will join the team next season. Captain Himeno commented, "Foster's addition will undoubtedly be a plus for us. But what we need to focus on now is this season. It's important to approach this game first without thinking ahead.”

Wild Knights is currently on a 13-game winning streak with 61 points obtained. Verblitz faced them in the fourth round on January 6th where we led by 22 points with four tries in the first half, but eventually losing 27-43 after a strong comeback by them. Captain Himeno stated, "At that time, we lost sight of our game plan in the second half. This time, we are determined to face them with the readiness and belief to play not just for 80 minutes but for 85 or 90 minutes."

The team is ready to face the top team at their home ground. After consecutive losses to Sungoliath and Blue Revs, followed by a bye week, the team secured their first consecutive wins upon resumption. "We're on the same page now," said Himeno. They increased the frequency of positional meetings to emphasize the time for players to discuss among themselves. Himeno himself discussed with fly-half Beauden Barrett about game control. Which Himeno described, "Some parts where we were a bit hesitant before have become clear. It was good to sharpen things up and not just rely on the coaches. We can challenge the Wild Knights in a good state."

Saturday will mark the last match for Himeno to play against Wild Knights’ hooker Shota Horie and scrum-half Keisuke Uchida, who have already announced their retirement. Horie is also a senior at Teikyo University. "Both of them are accomplished players. I’ll miss playing them, but the game is different. When Horie-san comes out in the second half, we can’t let him do his job."

Shuhei Yamaguchi has started as the number 14 for two consecutive matches. Before that, he was on the reserve bench for nine out of twelve matches, steadily increasing his presence. His remarkable play of the season came in the 10th round against Sungoliath when he caught a missed penalty goal by Barrett in the 39th minute of the second half and turned it into a try. Although the game was eventually reversed, it was an MVP-level performance. "My strength is fitness. I'm willing to run even if it's unnecessary." The opposition boasts a lineup of international-level backs, but Yamaguchi comments, "I want to use my physicality and bring the team forward. I want to do my job well for 80 minutes."

It's reassuring that the team can approach the game without any hesitation. Supported by the cheers from the VOLTs at Mizuho, Verblitz will fight together as one.




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