Suntory Sungoliath secured their place in the 2018-19 Top League final courtesy of an extra-time sudden-death Matt Giteau penalty from 45 metres to narrowly see off Yamaha Jubilo 28-25 at Chichibunomiya in Tokyo. marking the first occasion that a play-off match has gone to extra time.
They will meet Kobelco Steelers in the final next weekend, which will this season double up as the All-Japan Rugby Championship Final, after they prevailed 31-19 winners against Toyota Verblitz. Dan Carter scored 21 of Steelers’ points to guide them to the final in his first season in Kobe.
The match-up between Suntory and Kobelco will evoke memories of the 1999-2000 final, when both teams were awarded the trophy after a pulsating 27-27 draw in the Japanese capital, marking the first instance of a draw in Japan’s premier cup competition.
Next weekend will be Kobelco Steelers’ first appearance in the All-Japan Final in 15 years, when they were defeated 22-10 by Toshiba Brave Lupus. Suntory, meanwhile, will be hoping to secure a third successive title after final victories against Panasonic in both 2016-17 and 2017-18.
Suntory came from behind to beat Yamaha having trailed at the interval. They opened the scoring through Seiya Ozaki after Giteau had pierced the Yamaha line, but the Shizuoka-based outfit fought back with three first-half tries through Takeshi Hino, Yuya Odo and Kwagga Smith, the latter charging down a kick on half-way. However, Ozaki added two more tries in the second half to complete a hat-trick of tries before Ayumu Goromaru kicked an 80th-minute penalty to send the game to sudden-death extra time.
Five minutes into extra time, Suntory were awarded a penalty following a terrific take and run from Kotaro Matsushima, with Giteau stepping up to slot the ball through the posts from 45 metres and send Suntory into next weekend’s final.
Earlier on Saturday, Kobelco Steelers booked their final place at the newly-refurbished Hanazono Stadium in Osaka by overcoming a young and tenacious Toyota Verblitz, coached by RWC-winning coach Jake Smith.
Sunwolves forward Grant Hattingh and Dan Carter both crossed for early tries for the Kobe outfit, before Carter converted his own try and added two penalties before the break, with South African Gio Aplon reducing the deficit for Verblitz with a try. Fraser Anderson added a third try for Steelers after the interval in what turned out to be the only five points of the second half as Kobelco held out for a memorable semi-final win.