Toyota Verblitz's Spirited Effort Falls Short Against the Blue Wall

On April 20th, Toyota Verblitz faced off against Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights at the Paloma Mizuho Rugby Ground. Verblitz were defeated 7-40, bringing their total record to 7 wins and 7 losses, which now puts the team in 6th place, extinguishing any possibility of making it into the top 4. Pre-sale tickets sold out, and under the early summer sun, the match recorded the highest attendance in the history of Paloma Mizuho Rugby Ground with 9,129 spectators. Toyota fought hard, but the blue wall remained unbroken.

In the previous encounter at round 4, despite losing 27-43, there were moments when Toyota led 27-5 early on in the game. Going into the rematch, the opposition’s strategy was clear. "We applied pressure without giving them momentum." (Wild Knights Head Coach, Robbie Deans) The blue jerseys came out with an attacking mindset right from the kickoff. In the 4th minute, from a scrum near the halfway line, Lood de Jager scored a try. Then, in the 8th minute, De Jager scored again from a lineout. With a series of continuous attacks, the blue jerseys quickly surged ahead to a 14-0 lead.

"We knew Toyota would come at us desperately, so we prepared specifically for that," said Deans. Toyota's weaknesses around the rucks and defensive lines were thoroughly exploited. Another try was added in the 15th minute, extending the gap to 21 points. Wild Knights then focused on solidifying their defense after widening the gap, capitalizing on the opposition’s errors and covering them into points.

Toyota also attacked fiercely, but no matter how many phases they went through, the blue wall remained unbroken. "Even if we tried to find gaps, their defense on both sides was solid, making it difficult to get through. Compared to when we play other teams, there were longer moments of indecisiveness by us during the game,” said fullback Taichi Takahashi. Whether through mistakes losing possession or turnovers, they found themselves in a deadlock. "In the league, they're known for their defense. Being too aggressive in the midfield is risky and we just couldn't break through," said captain Kazuki Himeno.

Despite conceding 2 more tries in the second half, Verblitz fought until the end. After the final whistle, the team attempted a line-out near the goal line with the support of the crowd, but the ball slipped from their hands, denying them any additional points. With only 2 games remaining, even with consecutive victories, they couldn't surpass the Eagles’ 4th place, ending their chances of making it into the top 4.

Verblitz showed stability in scrums and brilliance in line-out successes. The try they scored in the 31st minute of the first half came from a line-out maul, seized by flanker William Tupou. They also had fewer penalties than the opposition and ended up with 64% possession, but the goal line was out of reach. The speed of support, the accuracy of decisions, the precision of skills... the Wild Knights team was moving in motion while being on the same page. “Verblitz has good jackalers. We knew they would come forward in defense. We've been focusing on effectively attacking areas close to the breakdown and using offloads well throughout the week," said captain Atsushi Sakate.

Captain Himeno acknowledged, "This is where we’re at.” "They were good at the kicking game. How do we deal with such teams, the timing of going for the counter, and what kind of kicks to make... I need to deepen my understanding of the game," added Takahashi. With 66 points gained in 14 games, the challenge upon the leading team shedding light on what they need to do for the next season. Head Coach Ben Herring sees the remaining 2 games as "a way to build for the next season."

Besides preparing for the next, they still have goals for this season with Takahashi aiming to be the top try scorer in the league. At the end of Round 14, he sits at 5th with 11 tries. The top spot belongs to Maro Tuitama (Blue Revs) with 15 tries, followed by three players with 12 tries. "On a personal level, I'm within reach. I've scored a hat-trick in two consecutive games (laughs), so I want to give it a shot,” said Takahashi. If the team can put out a satisfying performance, opportunities will naturally arise for try-getters like him.

In the next round, they will face Yokohama Canon Eagles at Paloma Mizuho Rugby Ground, which is also fly-half Beauden Barrett's last game at hone. Verblitz aims to conclude the season with a strong finish. 




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