Panasonic Wild Knights showed Friday they are not going to give up their Japan Rugby Top League title without a fight.
Having started the season with two wins and two losses, the Wild Knights hammered NTT Communications Shining Arcs 42-14 at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground to jump above them in the standings, and more importantly get their season back on track.
"The way we started was great and to bag a bonus point against a good opponent has got the belief back and allows us to generate some momentum now," said Panasonic head coach Robbie Deans.
Former Wild Knights star Tony Brown -- who will work with Brave Blossoms coach Jamie Joseph on a part-time basis until the end of next year's Super Rugby competition, when he will join the Brave Blossoms full time -- has spent the last two weeks with the side. And his input was very much evident.
Fumiaki Tanaka, in particular, looked rejuvenated, with his old mentor back in the fold.
The Japan scrumhalf made a number of telling breaks and kicks and his form would have pleased Joseph, who was in the stands.
"He's had a solid training block and getting more game time. He's physically and mentally fresh," Deans said of Tanaka, who spends most of his time at the Highlanders as deputy to All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith.
It was a view shared by NTT coach Rob Penney.
"I thought Tanaka and (Berrick) Barnes were outstanding. They had the mercurial touch today and it really cost us," he said.
Richard Buckman, who was also coached by Joseph and Brown at the Highlanders, also impressed, and his efforts were rewarded with his second try in as many games, as he continues his return from a long injury lay-off.
Following a week off for all the teams, the early proceedings in the last night game of the season were riddled with errors as both teams struggled to hold onto the ball.
Two penalties from Barnes saw Panasonic take an early lead, which was extended in the 19th minute when Atsushi Sakate was pushed over by his pack.
Barnes added the extras to make it 13-0 and then turned creator for Panasonic's second try six minutes later, as his initial break eventually led to Tanaka putting Daniel Heenan away.
Barnes banged over the conversions and added a third penalty in the 30th minute as Panasonic went into the break leading 23-0.
Yasutaka Sasakura extended the lead four minutes into the second half when he made the most of some good work by Kotaro Yatabe and Sakate, before the Panasonic pack repeated the trick of the first half as they pushed over Buckman for the fourth try of the evening.
The introduction of Shane Gates seemed to spark NTT into life and the South African crossed in the 57th minute following some great interplay from his teammates.
Kosuke Yamashita then added a second to temporarily take Panasonic's bonus point away from them.
But Tomoki Kitagawa sprinted over after the hooter for his 97th Top League five-pointer to restore the three-try margin and ensure the Wild Knights picked up five points for their efforts.
"We haven't had much luck of late," said Deans, who saw Barnes leave the field midway through the second half with a dislocated shoulder. "So that last act hopefully shows our fortunes are turning."
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