Barrett makes flying start, upstaged by team-mate's five-try haul

TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett both scored tries as the All Blacks teammates, who will be available to coach Ian Foster later in the year, experienced contrasting introductions to the Japanese Top League on Sunday.

Perenara’s second half try proved a pivotal turning point as his NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes rallied from 6-14 down at halftime to beat Keisuke Sawaki 26-24 at the Machida Stadium in Tokyo, completing the escape with a penalty goal in the 81st minute.

Barrett had a more leisurely debut, pulling the strings from his favoured first-five-eighth position for an hour as Suntory Sungoliath ran riot to rout the Greg Cooper-coached Mitsubishi Dynoboars, 75-7.

While the All Black kicked eight conversions to go along with his first half try, his contribution was upstaged by the former Blues and Highlanders winger Tevita Li, who scored five of Suntory’s 11 tries.

The 25-year-old, who spoke of his desire to chase Japanese selection via residency, joined Suntory last year, and has quickly made himself a club favourite.

Uncapped at test level, Li had already scored six tries from four outings in his first season, before almost doubling that in one outing.

Suntory made the most of the wafer-thin defence offered by the Dynoboars, of whom more might have been expected given they fielded the former All Blacks Colin Slade and Jackson Hemopo among six players within their ranks who have Super Rugby experience.

The game marked a winning start for Suntory’s New Zealand-born coach Milton Haig, who is best known for his work with the Georgian national team.

The former Southland and Bay of Plenty halfback is being assisted by the long-time Hurricanes midfielder Jason O’Halloran.

Suntory were not the only powerhouses to make a statement during a first weekend that saw 76 tries scored across the eight matches as players thrived on hard grounds in the unseasonal warm conditions.

Kobelco Steelers contributed seven of those as they kicked off their title defence with a 47-38 win over the NEC Green Rockets in Osaka. One was scored by the on-debut former All Black, Ben Smith.

Smith suffered the misfortune of being sent off for leading into a tackle with his forearm during his Top 14 debut for Pau in France two years ago but enjoyed a much happier opening bow in Japan.

While the concession of six tries to the only club in the Top League that doesn’t have a New Zealander on their playing roster may concern the Kobe coaching team, headed by its director of rugby Wayne Smith, the score did flatter the visitors.

NEC scored two of their tries while All Black lock Brodie Retallick was in the sin bin, and another two in the final three minutes when the game had already been decided.

In Tokyo, the New Zealand-born Welsh international Hadleigh Parkes was the last of six individual try-scorers as the Panasonic Wild Knights overcame the shock concession of a first minute try by the Indian-born St John’s College (Hamilton) product, Keagan Faria, to swamp the Ricoh Black Rams 55-14.

The Wild Knights had been in the box seat when last season’s competition was called off, having opened with six wins, and the manner of their dismissal of the Black Rams suggested they are going to be tough to stop again.

While Parkes and England lock George Kruis were making their Top League debuts, it was a member of the club’s younger brigade who stole the show, with former Japan Under-20s skipper Shota Fukui, who is highly rated by Panasonic coach Robbie Deans, coming off the bench to score twice.

Faria, who scored both the Black Rams’ tries, played with Hamilton Marist, and had been in the Chiefs development system before trying his hand at Ricoh, where he could prove a useful pickup.

Among the other matches of a high scoring round, the 2019 finalists Kubota started promisingly, with Springbok hooker Malcolm Marx scoring two tries, and Wallaby first-five-eighth Bernard Foley contributing 18 points, as the Spears beat the Fukuoka-based Munakata Sanix Blues 43-17.

Saturday’s early game saw the NTT Communications Shining Arcs overpower Danny Lee’s Honda Heat 41-13, with former Scottish captain Greig Laidlaw marking his Top League debut with a try, while the former Hurricanes, Otago and Waikato first-five-eighth Fletcher Smith scored the opening try of the competition for the victors.

The only negative for the Shining Arcs came with the second half yellow carding of the former New Zealand Under-20s lock Jimmy Tupou, although the Heat were unable to profit, being outscored 22-0 after the halftime break.

The second of two one-point ball games in the opening round saw Toyota Verblitz hold off a fast-finishing Toshiba Brave Lupus, 34-33, in Nagoya.

Despite having former All Black captain Kieran Read and the current Wallaby skipper Michael Hooper in their pack for the second half, Toyota almost surrendered a 34-21 advantage in the last 20 minutes as Todd Blackadder’s men roared back in a game they will feel that they should have won.

Even though they dominated the first half, the Brave Lupus paid for coughing up too much possession, from which Toyota profited with three tries to build up a 24-7 halftime buffer.

Although Toshiba clawed their way back into the contest, with Kiwis Matt Todd, Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Stratton and the New Zealand-born Japanese skipper Michael Leitch among their try-scorers, they still wound up a point short, despite outscoring their hosts five-tries-to-four.

Yamaha Jubilo completed the first round with a comfortable 52-17 win over the Hino Red Dolphins in Osaka with the former Waikato fullback Sam Greene contributing 15 of the points, including a try.

Hino were outclassed despite the efforts of former All Black halfback Augustine Pulu who scored two of their three tries.