Beauden Barrett and Kieran Read to clash in Japan's Top League feature match

Suntory Sungoliath’s 73-5 rout of the Toshiba Brave Lupus yesterday has set up a tantalising prospect in Japan next weekend as All Black teammates Beauden Barrett and Kieran Read face off in the Top League.

Both are unbeaten so far, with Barrett and his colleagues effortlessly dealing with a disappointing Toshiba to jump ahead of Read’s Toyota Verblitz, and Ryan Crotty’s Kubota Spears, by a point at the top of the standings in the competition’s red conference.

Despite fielding All Blacks Matt Todd and Seta Tamanivalu, alongside the one-game Crusader Jack Stratton, and Japanese national captain Michael Leitch, Toshiba were totally overwhelmed by Suntory, who underlined their superiority by running in nine tries.

Toshiba’s sole points came via a try by Todd from a forward rush close to the Suntory goal-line.

The result was in stark contrast to last year’s meeting where Toshiba had upset Suntory 26-19, and fully highlighted the advances the former Georgia coach, New Zealander Milton Haig, has made with his charges since taking over this year.

The acquisition of Barrett has been central to that improvement, for both his attacking dynamism but also – most significantly from an All Black perspective – for the excellence of his goal-kicking.

Often viewed as a weakness when compared to his All Black rival Richie Mo’unga, Barrett has kicked 31 of 36 (an 86 percent success rate) so far in Japan, while accumulating 76 points at an average of 19 per game.

The All Black’s consistency off the kicking tee has helped Suntory average 63.5 points per game, from 34 tries and 254 points, but Haig will be anticipating a much sterner test over the next two weekends when Suntory faces Toyota and Kubota.

Last Saturday’s game, which was rescheduled after the threat of nearby lightening strikes had seen the original match called off the week before, robbed Suntory of the rest most of the other teams in the league enjoyed this weekend, from what was a bye round.

Even so, the replay didn’t appear much of an inconvenience, as the Sungoliath barely raised a sweat in rocketing to a 38-0 halftime lead.

The loss was the third for Todd Blackadder’s Toshiba from four outings, but with games against teams ranked either around or below them to finish the conference, their season is still far from a total write-off.

The top six teams in each conference will receive a bye in the first round of the elimination series, which kicks off on April 17, while the remaining four will be joined by the top four qualifiers from the second-tier challenger series for the start of five weeks of sudden-death matches.

The chances of Agustin Pulu’s Hino Red Dolphins avoiding the first weekend of the knockouts gained a major boost today when they edged the NEC Green Rockets 10-7 in wet conditions in the other match carried over from last weekend.

Fielding a strong Kiwi-connection through Liaki Moli, Ash Parker, Nili Latu, Hayden Cripps and Chance Peni alongside Pulu himself, Hino broke the deadlock after a scoreless first half in Tokyo when Moli scored in the 48th minute but looked to have blown it when the concession of a late penalty try tied the game at 7-7.

Fortunately for the Red Dolphins, enough time remained for replacement Hideke Tanabe to kick an 82nd minute penalty goal, which secured his side’s first win, and lifted it off the bottom of the table in the competition’s white conference.

That section is led by the unbeaten Panasonic Wild Knights, one point in advance of the equally undefeated Kobelco Steelers.

Those two sides meet in two weeks in a game that should both decide the conference, but also allow the winner to avoid the prospect of meeting Suntory until the Top League final in Tokyo on May 23.