Wild Knights, Brave Lupus to meet in Japan Rugby League One final

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Japan Rugby League One final will be a showdown between coaches who emerged from the same New Zealand rugby nursery and have taken similar paths to Sunday's showdown in Tokyo.

Robbie Deans will coach serial winners Saitama Wild Knights while Todd Blackadder will guide Brave Lupus Tokyo in the JRLO final in front of an expected crowd of more than 50,000 at the National Stadium.

Deans is a product of New Zealand’s Canterbury province who played five tests at fullback for the All Blacks and later coached the Christchurch-based Crusaders to five Super Rugby titles between 2000 and 2008. He was an assistant coach of the All Blacks at the 2003 World Cup and coached Australia from 2008 to 2013.

Blackadder also is a product of Canterbury as both player and coach. He played 71 matches for the Crusaders and 12 tests for the All Blacks as a loose forward before turning to coaching. He coached the Crusaders immediately after Deans and until 2016, without adding to their tally of championships.

He had success coaching Bath in England before joining Brave Lupus in 2019.

Both Deans and Blackadder began their careers at the Glenmark-Cheviot club near Christchurch and Blackadder was effectively Deans’ protege before he followed him at the Crusaders.

“I haven’t physically seen much of Toddy since he moved up here,” Deans said. “That’s just the way it is, there’s not much opportunity to cross paths. But we talk occasionally and it’s good to see him doing well. He’s got a good roster there and they’re playing some good rugby.”

The contest in the coaching box is only one of the numerous head-to-head match-ups in the final.

Japan flyhalf Rikiya Matsuda for the Wild Knights will mark All Blacks star Richie Mo’unga for the Brave Lupus, Wallaby Marika Koroibete will mark Japan’s Jone Naikabula, Australian-born Japan international Jack Cornelsen will oppose Japan legend Michael Leitch and Springbok winger Damien De Allende will face off against former All Black Seta Tamanivalu.

The Wild Knights are unbeaten in 17 matches and are chasing their seventh title since the Japan league became semi-professional as the Top League in 2003. Japan Rugby League One, now three years old, is its successor.

Deans said the presence of Mo’unga and All Blacks backrower Shannon Frizell in the Brave Lupus side helped to make them a formidable opponent. Mo’unga has seven Super Rugby titles and is aiming to add the JRLO title in his first season in Japan.

“The league continues to lift, not surprisingly if you look at the number of current internationals out there now, not to mention coaches,” Deans said. “Mo’unga will be a factor obviously. He has a good habit of winning titles.”


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