Twelve Top League clubs were in action this Saturday afternoon in the final round of play-off games to determine their overall season position for the 2015/16 campaign. Only four of those teams had something to play for though, with the sides ranked 13th-16th facing off to decide who they play next weekend in the Challenge Series, the relegation/promotion play-offs between Top League and regional league sides.
NTT-Docomo Red Hurricanes find themselves in serious danger of relegation after losing 33-22 to NEC Green Rockets in their final game of the Top League ranking tournament, meaning Red Hurricanes prop up the table in last place (16th). Docomo will now have to do battle with the top-ranked team from the regional leagues, currently Sanix Blues, in a one-off match to determine their Top League status. After finishing 15th, Green Rockets will have to beat the second-best regional league team in order to stay up.
Ricoh Black Rams ensured they would have the ‘best deal’ out of the four sides involved in the relegation/promotion play-offs, playing the 4th-best side from the regional leagues after prevailing 27-22 in their 13/14th-place play-off with Coca Cola West Sparks, who in turn face the 3rd-best regional team next Sunday.
NEC were pegged back to 15-8 at the break by NTT-Docomo in the first of the two play-off matches at Komazawa, Tokyo, having led 12-0 within the first twenty minutes courtesy of tries from left-winger Koshiro Shuto and full-back Koichiro Kubota. However, basic handling errors from NEC saw Red Hurricanes eventually run in their first try of the game after a spell of prolonged pressure inside their opponents’ 22.
Second-half tries from Shuto, his second of the game, and fellow winger Goto increased their lead before Tongan Paea Poseti touched down for a late try that proved to be little more than a consolation as NTT-Docomo slipped to another defeat in front of the 1,800 spectators in the capital.
The afternoon kick-off at Komazawa Olympic Park pitted Fukuoka-based Coca Cola West Sparks and Tokyo’s Ricoh Black Rams against one another in to decide 13th and 14th spots in this season’s Top League.
West Sparks scored the game’s first try within the opening ten minutes, also adding the extras. Their seven-point cushion was soon cancelled out by Ricoh when scrum half Shota Yamamoto burst clear of the Coca Cola defence to offload to hooker Kan Yoshino, who fended off the full back to run in under the posts. Goldilocks look-a-like Nick Cummins was brought on as a replacement late on in the half but was left for dust by Masaki Watanabe after Ricoh span the ball out wide. The 26-year-old winger surged down the left flank to touch down in the corner to hand Black Rams a 12-7 half-time lead (pic below).
West Sparks drew level with an unconverted try five minutes into the second half to make it 12-12. Foley and young winger Yusuke Matsumoto notched a try each in the space of 10 minutes though to seemingly put the game to bed. West Sparks fought back with a late try from to put them within just five points of Ricoh minutes left but it just wasn’t to be for Coca Cola, making the final score 27-22 to Ricoh Black Rams and a long trip back to Fukuoka.
All four teams still have to secure victory over their respective regional league opponents in the relegation/promotion play-offs next weekend in order to remain in the Top League