Japan Rugby League One 2022-2023: Round 1 Preview
Japan Rugby League One (JRLO) 2022-2023 season kicks off in Tokyo on Saturday 17th December 2022 in round 1 with several of the title-contending teams squaring off in Division 1, but there is action across all three divisions this weekend.
There are three matches in Division One on each day of the opening weekend, with Divisions Two and Three also kicking off.
All times shown are Japan Time. You can read our JRLO 2023 Season Preview here.
JRLO Division 1 – Round 1
Saturday 17 December 2022
JRLO defending champions, the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights host Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo on Saturday, while Sunday’s matches include clashes between two of last season’s top four; beaten finalists Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath and semi-finalists Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo-Bay.
Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo V Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sangamirha Dyanaboars – Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo, 12pm
Ricoh Black Rams face the newly promoted Dynaboars hoping for a jump start to the new campaign.
The Black Rams are coached by the former NSW Waratahs winger Peter Hewat, and the Tokyo-based outfit has recruited former Wales international midfielder Hadleigh Parkes from Saitama, as well as second row
Josh Goodhue from the (Auckland) Blues as well as 22-test English international Nathan Hughes.
The Dynaboars are back in the top flight after earning hard-fought promotion last season, and Glenn Delaney heads up the new coaching team. He has vast experience from New Zealand’s NPC and Super Rugby, as well as the United Rugby Championship, from his time in Wales.
Wallaby Matt To’omua is the prized new star and is joined by Wallaby centre Curtis Rona who will debut for the Dynaboars after an off-season transfer from London Irish.
Toyota Verblitz V Shizuoka Blue Revs – Toyota Stadium, Aichi, 2.30pm
Toyota Verblitz secured England’s 70-cap former Wasps second-row Joe Launchbury on a one-year deal – and will be looking to vastly improve on their fifth-place finish in the JRLO last season. The side also includes Japanese loose forward and former Highlander Kazuki Himeno as well as Springboks Wille le Roux (rested this weekend), and Pieter Steph du Toit.
Verblitz Director of Rugby, Steve Hansen, has reassembled his coaching team ahead and former Otago NPC coach Ben Herring, takes the helm (he also has experience from Major League Rugby in the United States.)
Springbok loose forward Kwagga Smith is the new co-captain of the Blue Revs, a club which has signed a partnership with European titans Stade Toulousain.
Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights V Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo – Kumagaya Stadium, Saitama, 2.40pm
The defending champions, Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights welcome fellow 2022 JRLO semi-finalists Brave Lupus Tokyo on Saturday.
Panasonic Wild Knights under Robbie Deans see the return of midfielder Damien de Allende and welcome Springbok Lood de Jager (although misses this opening match). The side features 7 Brave Blossoms players who played the international tests in November 2022 as well as Wallaby Marika Koroibete,
Todd Blackadder is the coach of the Brave Lupus and has added South African midfielder Burger Odendaal from Wasps but most of the squad remains the same with Warner Dearns in the second row, former All Black centre Seta Tamanivalu, and former Japan captain Michael Leitch.
Sunday 18 December 2022
NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu V Hanazono Kintetsu Liners – Kashiwanoha Park Stadium, Chiba, 2.30pm
Michael Cheika heads the Green Rockets as Director of Rugby and has added 72-test Wallaby halfback Nick Phipps from London Irish, as well as winger Taqele Naiyaravoro, former Wales Grand Slam-winning second-row Jake Ball, and the Maori All Black representatives, hooker Ash Dixon.
Kintetsu returns to the top section as Division Two champions but will be without Wallaby star Quade Cooper for at least the first part of the campaign after the flyhalf injured his Achilles during Australia’s opening test of this year’s Rugby Championship in Argentina.
Former Hurricanes’ flyhalf Jackson Garden Bachop, and Scotland lock Ben Turis are also in the squad as well as veteran Will Genia.
Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath V Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay – Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo, 2.30pm
Last year’s beaten finals Tokyo Sungoliath host the third-placed Kubota Spears from 2022 on Sunday.
Sungoliath saw the departure of the competition’s top point-scorer from last season, All Black Damien McKenzie, who has returned to Super Rugby in New Zealand, and he has been replaced by fellow All Black Aaron Cruden who transferred from Kobe.
Other core members are backrow Tevita Tatafu (scoring six tries in Japan Rugby League One’s maiden season), and winger Tevita Li, who will be on the try trail after finishing as the top try-scorer in this year’s NPC competition in New Zealand.
Japan wing/fullback Kotaro Matsushima re-joins from French club Clermont Auvergne, while Crusaders
midfield back Isaiah Punivai is covering for Wallaby star Samu Kerevi, who injured his knee and may not be ready until the tail end of the season.
The Spears’ Coached Frans Ludeke’s men finished third after having their title aspirations ended in the semi-finals last season and are led by Springbok Malcolm Marx, who as teammates call upon Wallaby flyhalf Bernard Foley and All Black midfielder Ryan Crotty.
Yokohama Canon Eagles V Kobelco Kobe Steelers – Spring Mitsuzawa Stadium, Kanagawa, 2.30pm
Even though the Eagles fluffed their lines at the end of last season when a maiden semi-final appearance was a possibility after winning 10 JRLO matches, , the relocation to Yokohama last season was seen as a good one.
New recruit Springbok halfback Faf de Klerk is the biggest signing and joins fellow South Africans centre Jesse
Kriel, and SP Marais.
Kobe, who won the Top League in 2019, have brought in powerful All Black midfielder Ngane Laumape from Stade Francais while youngster Seungsin Lee will fill in at flyhalf after Cruden’s departure
Head coach Nick Holten has brought in Beauden Waaka ( Taranaki in New Zealand’s NPC & New England Freejacks in Major League Rugby), former Sharks, Ulster and Bulls backrow Marcel Coetzee, and ex-rugby league winger
JRLO Division 2 – Round 1 – Saturday, December 17 2022
- Hino Red Dolphins V Kamaishi Seawaves At Tokyo, 1pm
- Honda Heat V Urayasu D-Rockss At Mie,1pm
- Toyota Industries Shuttles Aichi V Shimizu Koto Blue Sharks At Aichi, 2.30pm
Urayasu D-Rocks is a newly merged club and has several stars such as Israel Folau and will take on another star-studded side Honda Heat, which in their squad includes Argentine captain Pablo Matera and Wallaby fullback Tom Banks – both will start on opening day – alongside Springbok second-row Franco Mostert, who will come off the bench.
Kamaishi head to Hino Red Dolphins, the latter have added Wallaby lock Rory Arnold and former New Zealand Super Rugby flyhalf Simon Hickey to their roster.
French 65-cap Les Bleus veteran Yoann Maestri, could debut when Toyota Industries Shuttles Aichi take on Shimizu Koto Blue Sharks.
JRLO Division 3 – Round 1 – Saturday, December 17 2022
- Mazda Skyactives Hiroshima V Chugoku Electric Power Red Regulions At Hiroshima, 1pm
- NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes V Kyushudenryoku Kyuden Voltex At Osaka, 2.30pm
The first match is aHiroshima derby with the demoted Mazda Skyactives Hiroshima welcoming the Chugoku Electric Power Red Regulions to the Balcom BMW Stadium.
NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes, the former Division One club dropping to the third Division following their parent company NTT consolidated its sporting operations, sees Matt Cockbain at the helm.
The Kyushudenryoku Kyuden Voltex has signed Brumbies flanker Colby Fainga’a (misses the first round) and New Zealand-born former Scotland flyhalf, Phil Burleigh.
Asian Rugby Tournaments 2022-2023
- Hong Kong Women XV Looking For Series Clean Sweep Over Kazakhstan.
- Chinese Women’s Sevens Rugby Aiming For A Strong 2023.
- Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei To Play For U19 Silverware.
- HKRU 2023 New Year’s Day Youth Rugby Tournament.