The Panasonic Wild Knights are all but through to the Brisbane Global Rugby Tens semi-finals after blitzing the NSW Waratahs and Melbourne Rebels on day one.
Led by former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans, the Japanese side were arguably the most impressive side through Saturday’s early games at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
They won 15-5 against the Waratahs, then backed it up with a 17-12 victory over the Rebels, who are one of only two Australian sides to have tasted victory so far.
“We shouldn’t have been (underestimated), but we don’t really know what was going through the minds of the opposition,” Deans said.
“I think we genuinely earned both outcomes, which is great.”
Former Reds and Brumbies flanker Daniel Heenan, one of two Australians on Panasonic’s books, said it was proof the Japanese Top League was stronger than most people give it credit for.
“A lot of people forget about the players that go to Japan. They don’t know the standard,” he said.
“It’s just good to come over here and showcase that and prove that it is a good tournament, the boys aren’t just going over there for a rest.”
The Waratahs lost their second match 26-14 to the Chiefs, for which superstar Israel Folau was rested, and need to beat the Rebels on Sunday morning to have any chance of staying alive.
The Rebels began with a bang, securing an upset 19-5 win against the Chiefs.
Meanwhile, Toulon opened their weekend with a 10-0 loss the Brumbies, although James O’Connor did not play after injuring his ankle at training on Friday.
Brumbies wildcard Stephen Larkham was on the teamsheet but pulled his calf muscle in the warm-up – making him the second wildcard sidelined after Chris Latham’s Queensland Reds comeback was halted by a hamstring strain.
The Reds drew 17-17 with the Blues, with Karmichael Hunt showing some good signs in his return from a long injury lay-off.
Earlier, the Brumbies fell 14-7 to the Highlanders, while the Western Force lost 14-10 to South Africa’s Blue Bulls and 19-12 to the Hurricanes to leave their finals chances hanging by a thread.
The only two teams who have to play three times on the opening day on Saturday are the Brumbies, who will return to face the Bulls, while the Force take on Toulon in the day’s last match.