Anyone can contribute to The Roar and have their work featured alongside some of Australia’s most prominent sports journalists.
George Gregan made his Top League debut for Tokyo based side Suntory Sungoliath last Friday night, in the season opener against Sanyo Wild Knights.
The opener was a rematch of the 2008 Microsoft Cup Final, where Suntory defeated Sanyo 14-10 to be crowned Top League champions, despite Sanyo being the first side to go undefeated in league play.
A large crowd of 14,901 turned out at Tokyo’s Chichibunomiya Stadium for a night game under lights, the first to trial the ELVs.
Gregan drew a huge applause from the crowd as he ran out onto the park, but that was the last we saw of him as Suntory fell 19-9 to their rivals.
And the mastermind behind the defeat?
Former All Black and Highlander, Tony Brown, who has carved out a niche for himself as the best first five in Japan.
Brown must have been watching the Tri-Nations this year because amid all the knock-ons, handling errors and confusion at the breakdown, his controlled boot kept Suntory pinned in their own territory and he slotted four penalties in the win.
Gregan lasted about an hour and was shown by up tiny Sanyo halfback, Fumiaki Tanaka, who at a mere 5’6″ was able to step his way through a retreating scrum to score the game’s only try. There were claims of obstruction or accidental offside, but the ref, like so many under the ELVs, was having a shocker.
Gregan has suddenly found himself in the thick of it all.
The Sanyo Wild Knights are on a mission to win the Top League this year and Australian fans will be interested to know that one of their star players is former Reds, Brumbies and Wallaby flanker-lock Daniel Heenan.
Heenan missed most of last season with injury, but he’s back playing lock.
Sanyo already gained a measure of revenge by destroying Suntory 40-18 in the prestigious All-Japan Rugby Football Championship that marks the season’s end.
And Gregan’s Suntory side will be playing catch-up from here on on.
The good news for Japanese rugby is that 14,901 is an extremely good number with the Tokyo baseball derby (Giants vs. Swallows) being played right next door.
The other big signing, former All Black and Crusaders’ captain Rueben Thorne, also got off to a losing start as his Yamaha Jubilo side fell 22-21 to the Kubota Spears due to the brilliance of new signings, former Worcester pair Shane Drahm and Drew Hickey.
Hickey scored Kubota’s only try (from an offload by Wallaby great Toutai Kefu) and Drahm won the game three minutes from time with a 40 metre drop goal.
If you’re wondering what’s become of Stephen Larkham, unfortunately his side Ricoh Black Rams were relegated last season.