Tokyo will host the final Deans-Jones battle | Latest rugby news
A coaching duel spanning more than 20 years provides its final chapter in Tokyo when the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights take on Suntory Sungoliath in Japan rugby’s first ever League One final.
Sungoliath Director of Rugby Eddie Jones and Wild Knights manager Robbie Deans have plotted directly or indirectly against each other since the Super Rugby final in 2000.
Deans then got one on Jones, guiding the Crusaders to an epic 20-19 win over the Brumbies.
The title was the first of five deans won with the Super Rugby heavyweight, four more than Jones, whose only success came in 2001.
This was largely due to his elevation to coach the Wallabies later that year, where he guided Australia to victory in the Tri-Nations on his first attempt.
Deans joined John Mitchell’s All Blacks team as coaching coordinator in 2002.
The pair reclaimed the Bledisloe Cup for New Zealand after a five-year absence in 2003, along with back-to-back Tri Nations victories, but Jones got the last laugh when his Wallabies knocked out the All Blacks from the World Cup 2003 into a thrilling semi-final.
Both men achieved similar records while coaching Australia, each winning a Tri-Nations and each finishing with records over 50%.
Jones has since had significant success with Japan and England, but his Suntory ties remain as he continues to hold the coaching reins at Twickenham.
Deans joined the Wild Knights in 2014, allowing the rivalry to resume.
It’s only fitting that the influential coaching duo will face off again on Sunday afternoon in the title match of Japan’s new streamlined domestic club competition.
The Wild Knights, who beat Sungoliath in last year’s final, are currently on a 31-game unbeaten streak.
But injury left Deans without Japan’s influential starter, five-eighth Rikiya Matsuda. England Test lock George Kruis has overcome an injury to play after missing last week’s semi-final.
His return means Australian striker Esei Ha’angana is out, although backbone of Wild Knights lock Jack Cornelsen, loose forward Ben Gunter, center Dylan Riley, winger Marika Koroibete and running back Semisi Tupou reserve are all either born in Australia or educated.
Suntory will look to their main man, former Wallaby vice-captain Samu Kerevi, as well as All Blacks utility Damien McKenzie, to provide the spark.