Many familiar names involved in Japan final

Richard Buckman
Richard Buckman
There will be southern connections, past and present, all over the park and in the stand when the Top Japan league final is played in Tokyo this weekend.

The Suntory Sungoliath side will take on the Kobe Kobelco Steelers in what is set to be the climax of a shortened season in the Japan league.

Suntory is seeking its third title in a row but will face a tough opponent in Kobe which beat Suntory earlier this season.

Kobe has restocked its player pool this year and its biggest signing was former All Black first five-eighth Dan Carter, who signed a two-year deal with the club.

Former All Black assistant coach Wayne Smith has moved into the front office at Kobe and he is sharing coaching duties along with another New Zealander, Dave Dillon.

Former Highlanders scrum coach Steve Cumberland is also listed on the Kobe coaching staff.

On the paddock, Highlanders Richard Buckman and Tom Franklin signed deals with the Japanese club earlier this year and have been in good form for the side.

Buckman starred in the semifinal win in which Kobe beat Toyota Verblitz 31-19.

Franklin and Buckman are coming back to play for the Highlanders next season. It is expected to be their final season with the southern franchise.

Former Highlanders first five-eighth Hayden Parker is a member of the Kobe side, as is Nick Ealey who played for Otago in 2014. Ealey, who plays more at first five-eighth these days, came on in the semifinal near the end and kicked a couple of goals.

Suntory had former Highlanders lock Joe Wheeler in its pack and he was part of a thrilling semifinal against Yamaha Jubilo in extra time.

The contest was all tied up at 25-25 at the end of 80 minutes and Giteau kicked a 42m penalty in the fifth minute of sudden-death extra time.

The players only found out that it would be golden-point extra time at the end of the match.

Meanwhile, the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes, which is the side Marty Banks plays for, has topped the second-tier ladder and will be part of the playoffs for promotion to the top league.

The Greg Cooper-coached Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars finished just behind the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes, which is coached by Mike Brewer, and will also be involved in the playoffs.


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