JRLO 2023-2024 Round 1 Preview
The JRLO 2023-2024 Round 1 sees games played from 9-10 December in all three divisions across Japan. We preview the matches and the key players who could determine the results this weekend.
The new JRLO Division 1 season gets underway with Kobelco Kobe Steelers hosting newly promoted Mie Honda Heat and there will be plenty of international talent to accompany the Japanese talent.
Kobe has Dave Rennie in charge and also boast All Black second-rower Brodie Retallick, World Rugby Player of the Year marquee signing Ardie Savea, as well as wrecking ball ex-All Black inside centre, Ngane Laumape. The latter previosuly played with Savea at The Hurricanes but he saw his last season in Japan cut short, playing just three times before injury ended his season.
Heat welcome former Italian boss Kieran Crowley but the side wont have injured former Argentine skipper Pablo Matera available this weekend.
Saturday also sees Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars and Hanazono Kintetsu Liners lineup, with discarded RWC 2023 player Quade Cooper essential for the Kintetsu Liners this season but unavailable for the opening round.
JRLO Division 1 defending champions, Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay, open their campaign against Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath (who finished 4th last season) in Tokyo on Sunday.
Frans Ludeke’s Spears squad will be looking to continue their dominance against Sungoliath – especially as they try and back up their maiden title and have added players such as retired All Black Dane Coles and Welsh fullback Liam Williams.
Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights and Yokohama Canon Eagles also face-off on Sunday for a repeat of last season’s semifinals.
The seven-time Japanese champions Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights will again be one of the favourites, even though 13 of their squad were at RWC 2023 with the Brave Blossoms, alongside the Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok inside centre Damien de Allende, and Wallaby winger Marika Koroibete. Popular Shota Horie has also announced his retirement from rugby after this season.
Yokohama themselved boast two Springbok World Cup winners in Jesse Kriel and scrumhalf Faf de Klerk.
Toyota Verblitz (who ended sixth placed last season) will see debuts for All Blacks Aaron Smith and flyhalf
Beauden Barrett. Steve Hansen as Toyota’s Director of Rugby is very fmailair with both players and starts Barrett at flyhalf. The side already counts former World Player of the Year and Rugby World Cup 2024 final champion and Player of the Match Pieter Steph du Toit, and Japanese Rugby World Cup skipper Kazuki Himeno among their ranks.
Ricoh Black Rams are the side that head to Verblitz on Saturday – Brave Blossom Amato Fakatava, and ex-England backrower Nathan Hughes, are both in the matchday squad.
Former Bristol Bear Charles Piutau is a star signing for the Shizuoka Blue Revs and they will look to upset title-chasing Brave Lupus on Saturday’s final fixture.
Division One JRLO 2023-2024 – Round 1 Fixtures
Saturday December 9 2023
- Kobelco Kobe Steelers v Mie Honda Heat; Kobe, 12pm
- Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars v Hanazono Kintetsu Liners; Sagamihara, 1pm
- Toyota Verblitz v Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo; Nagoya, 2.30pm
- Toshiba Brave Lupus v Shizuoka Blue Revs; Tokyo, 2.30pm
Sunday December 10 2023
- Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay v Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath; Tokyo, 2.30pm
- Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights v Yokohama Canon Eagles; Kumagaya, 3.05pm
Division Two JRLO 2023-2024 – Round 1 Fixtures
Division Two gets underway with two sides who are being talked up as promotion contendots. Demoted NEC Rockets, who have added former Welsh coach and Six Nations-winner Wayne Pivac this season, will host last season’s champions of the Division, Urayasu D-Rocks.
Namibian utility back Tiaan Swanepoel, who became the 26th non-Japanese Rugby World Cup attendee to register for the JRLO, will start for NEC Rockets.
Urayasu D-Rocks, with former Wallaby star Israel Folau’s future remaining uncertain and he is set to miss the opening wekeend and he will miss the opening weekend. Howeer new signing Samu Kerevi who made the move fromm Suntory is expected to start.
JRLO Division 2 newcomers Kyuden Voltex face Red Hurricanes Osaka in Fukuoka, and both sides have new new flyhalves. Experienced ex-All Black Tom Taylor joined Voltex from Brave Lupus , while Red Hurricanes Osaka will have Australian Bryce Hegarty as he made the move from the Western Force.
In Sundays’s game, Toyota Industries Shuttles Aichi have England flyhalf Freddie Burns back, and they make the trip from their to Japan Steel Kamaishi Seawaves.
Saturday December 9 2023
- NEC Green Rockets v Urayasu D-Rocks; Kashiwa, 2.30pm
- Kyuden Voltex v Red Hurricanes Osaka; Fukuoka, 2.30pm
Sunday December 10 2023
- Japan Steel Kamaishi Seawaves v Toyota Industries Shuttles Aichi; Kamaishi, 1pm
Division Three JRLO 2023-2024 – Round 1 Fixtures
There is only one JLRO Division 3 match on the opening weekend.
Former All Black and Samoa test flyhalf Lima Sopoaga makes his debut for Shimizu Koto Blue Sharks in the JRLO Dovosion 3. He was maybe a surpise additon to last year’s demoted side, and they will play Hino
Red Dolphins at home.
The Red Dolphins withdrew midway through last year’s Division 2 competition, thus their presence in Division 2 for the 2023-2024 season. They have selected former All Black and Tonga scrumhalf Augustine Pulu at centre, with Wallaby lock Rory Arnold starting in the forwards.
Saturday December 9
- Shimizu Corporation Koto Blue Sharks v Hino Red Dolphins; Tokyo, 1pm
Japan Rugby News 2023-2024
- NTT JRLO Season 2023-2024 – Who Is Involved?
- Cross-Border Rugby 2024 – JRLO & Super Rugby NZ Teams Confirmed.
- RWC 2023 Final – The JRLO Connection.
- 2023-24 Japan Rugby League One Season Welcomes International Talent.