The Cross-Border Rugby competition between leading clubs from Japan Rugby League One and DHL Super Rugby Pacific kicks off on Saturday, when the five-time Japanese champions Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath battle the three-time Super Rugby winners, the Auckland Blues.
The much-awaited series, which is the first between Japanese corporate clubs and New Zealand sides, includes two matches on its opening weekend, with last year’s Super Rugby finalists, the Gallagher (Waikato) Chiefs traveling to League One’s current league leaders, Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights, in Sunday’s second game.
The Chiefs were formerly coached by current Kobelco Kobe Steelers boss Dave Rennie, who won two titles with the club in 2012 and 2013, while five-time Crusaders Super Rugby-winning coach Robbie Deans is in charge at the Wild Knights.
The coaching links reflect the close relations between Japan and New Zealand, which are reinforced by this historic series. While the games are outside of any formal competitions, and will be played under trial conditions, Japan Rugby League One officials believe The Cross Border Rugby will be the start of a long-term connection between the countries at club level.
The Blues, who are under new management with former Scotland boss Vern Cotter taking over, arrive in Japan looking to build on last season’s campaign, where they made the semi-finals before losing to the defending champions Crusaders.
Cotter has named a strong squad, including several All Blacks, to meet Sungoliath, who are third in the league, having won five of its six games to date. The home side will introduce its new marquee signing, the star Los Pumas fly half Nicolas Sanchez, as he makes his debut for
This is Sungoliath’s second encounter with Super Rugby opposition, having lost a close match with the Brumbies of Australia in the Japanese pre-season late last year, although both teams were largely staffed by development players.
The Wild Knights have also played Super Rugby opposition during this campaign, losing by two with a development XV in their annual clash against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane late last year.
The Cross-Border Rugby is the start of a frequent association between teams from Japan and New Zealand in 2024, with both the Maori All Blacks and the All Blacks, set to visit later in the year.
The Maori All Blacks play a Japan XV on June 29th, and July 6th while the Brave Blossoms tackle the All Blacks on October 26th.
Saturday February 3
Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath v (Auckland) Blues; Prince Chichibu Stadium, Tokyo, 12pm
Sunday February 4
Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights v Gallagher (Waikato) Chiefs; Kumagaya Rugby Stadium, Saitama, 2.30pm
Saturday February 10
Yokohama Canon Eagles v (Auckland) Blues; Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium, Yokohama, 12.10pm
Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay v Gallagher (Waikato) Chiefs; Prince Chichibu Stadium, Tokyo, 2.30pm
(Kick offs Japan time)