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Robbie Deans is one game away from winning a fourth Japan Top League rugby title with the Panasonic Wild Knights – 20 years after his first national coaching success.
The former All Blacks fullback, who coached the Crusaders to five Super Rugby crowns and Canterbury to the 1997 NPC championship, watched former Australia and Crusaders wing Digby Ioane scored one of the Wild Knights’ two tries in a 17-11 semifinal victory over Toyota Verblitz in Osaka on Saturday.
“It wasn’t a great game,” Deans told the Japan Times.
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“But it was the outcome we wanted. We came here to qualify for the final and we’ve done that.”
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Japan international Takuya Yamasawa was influential at first five-eighth for the Wild Knights, helping set up tries for Ioane and Kenki Fukuoka.
Wallabies star David Pocock helped create Fukuoka’s touchdown with a surging run.
They held on to win against a South Africans-stacked Verblitz, coached by Jake White, who led the Springboks to the 2007 Rugby World Cup title.
Deans, who coached the Wallabies between 2008 and 2013, has a clutch of his former Australian charges in his Wild Knights squad, including Ioane, Pocock, Berrick Barnes and Daniel Heenan, plus Highlanders utility back Richard Buckman.
This will be Deans’ fourth Japanese final in five seasons since the 2013-14 campaign.
The Wild Knights – based in Ōta, 80km from Tokyo – won three consecutive Top League titles between 2014 and 2016, but must face the defending champions, Suntory Sungoliath, in next Sunday’s grand final.
Deans will find himself up against Wallabies Matt Giteau and Sean McMahon in the final, with veteran former Australian flanker George Smith struggling to overcome an injury.
Giteau, playing at first five-eighth, scored one of Suntory’s four first half tries in a 49-7 semifinal rout of Yamaha Jubilo.
Suntory – based in Fuchū, near Tokyo – also fielded former Tasman Mako and Highlanders lock Joe Wheeler and Auckland-born Australian-raised flanker Hendrik Tui, a Japanese international.