Top League

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This article is about the Japanese professional rugby union. For the Soviet Union association football league, see Soviet Top League.
Top League
Current season or competition:
2014–15 Top League
Sport Rugby union
Instituted 2003
Number of teams 16
Country  Japan
Holders Panasonic Wild Knights (2nd title) (2013–14)
Most titles Toshiba Brave Lupus (5 titles)
Website Official Website

The Top League is a rugby union football competition in Japan. It is the highest level of rugby competition in the country and is an industrial league, where the teams are all owned by major companies. The Japan Rugby Football Union created the competition in 2003 to drive up the overall standard and popularity of the sport and improve the results of the Japan national rugby union team. The first season in 2003–04 featured 12 teams. The league was expanded to 14 teams in 2006–07 and 16 teams in 2013–14.

The chief architect of the league was Hiroaki Shukuzawa who strongly felt the urgency of improving Japanese domestic company rugby to a professional level which would allow Japan to compete more convincingly at Rugby World Cups. Many full-time foreign professionals (mainly from Australia and New Zealand) have played in the Top League, notably Tony Brown and George Gregan. In the 2010s, salaries in the Top League have risen to become some of the highest in the rugby world; in 2012, South Africa's Jaque Fourie, now with Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers, was widely reported to be the world's highest-paid player.[1]


  • From the 2008–09 season, three foreign players will be allowed on the field at one time, one more than previously allowed. In addition to the three foreigners, one member of an Asian union, such as South Koreans Kim Kwang Mo (Sanyo Wild Knights) and Choi Ki Joon (Fukuoka Sanix Blues), will be allowed to take the field. From the 2009–10 season one of the three must have played for Japan or be eligible to do so. (Daily Yomiuri, 28 February 2008). Video referee decisions will be introduced in this season's Microsoft Cup.
  • From the 2007–08 season a timekeeping system independent of the referee was introduced.
  • From the 2006–07 season the league was expanded from 12 to 14 teams.


Provincial leagues at Kantō, Kansai, Kyūshū region.


Sixteen teams: 2012 onwards[edit]

Fourteen teams: 2006 to 2012[edit]

Ninth season (2011–12)[edit]

Main article: 2011–12 Top League

NTT Shining Arcs and Yamaha Jubilo which won their 2005 promotion/relegation play-offs (Irekaesen) against Canon Eagles and Kyuden Voltex to retain their places for the 2011–12 season. The following teams were in the league:

The top 4 sides of the regular season (Suntory, Toshiba, Sanyo, and NEC) competed in the 2012 Microsoft Cup knock-out tournament for the Top League title at Chichibu, Tokyo. Suntory defeated Sanyo 47–28 in the final to win the title. Both teams met again a few weeks later in the final of the 49th All-Japan Rugby Football Championship.

Additionally, in the Wildcard play-offs, the Top League teams ranked 5th and 8th (Kintetsu Liners and Yamaha Jubilo) played each other at Hanazono, Osaka, as did the teams ranked 6th and 7th (Kobe Steelers and Ricoh Black Rams), with the winners (Kobe and Yamaha) also qualifying for the All-Japan Rugby Football Championship.

Eighth season (2010–11)[edit]

Main article: 2010–11 Top League

Honda Heat and Kyuden Voltex were automatically relegated at the completion of the 2009–10 season for finishing 13th and 14th. Toyota Industries Shuttles and NTT Shining Arcs won promotion through the Top Challenge series. The following teams were in the league:

The top 4 sides (Toshiba, Sanyo, Toyota and Suntory) from the regular season competed in a knock out tournament to fight for the Top League title. In the final, Sanyo defeated Suntory 28–23.

Seventh season (2009–10)[edit]

Main article: 2009–10 Top League

IBM Big Blue and Yokogawa Atlastars were automatically relegated at the completion of the 2008–9 season for finishing 13th and 14th. Ricoh and Honda won promotion through the Top Challenge series. Kyuden and Sanix retained their places in Top League when they won their respective promotion and relegation play-offs. The following teams were in the league:

Sixth season (2008–9)[edit]

Main article: 2008–09 Top League

Kintetsu Liners returned to the league, and Yokogawa Denki were promoted for the first time (and renamed Yokogawa Musashino Atlastars in the off season). They replaced Ricoh Black Rams and Mitsubishi Dynaboars. The following teams were in the league:

Fifth season (2007–8)[edit]

Main article: 2007–08 Top League
Fukuoka Sanix Blues v Kyuden Voltex at Global Arena, Round 11, 20 January 2008

Kyuden Voltex and Mitsubishi Dynaboars joined the league for the first time. The following 14 teams were in the Top League in the 2007–08 season:

The top four teams (Sanyo, Suntory, Toyota and Toshiba) played in the fifth Microsoft Cup to decide the league champion. Suntory beat Sanyo 14–10 in the final to become the 2007–08 champions. Mitsubishi (14th) and Ricoh (13th) were automatically relegated.

Fourth season (2006–7)[edit]

Main article: 2006–07 Top League

The number of teams was increased from 12 to 14. Coca Cola became the second Kyushu-based team in the Top League. IBM returned to the league.

The top four teams in the league played in the Microsoft Cup which was officially integrated into the league from this season as the "Top League Play-off Tournament Microsoft Cup". Toshiba won the cup (and also won the All-Japan Championship. Secom and World (13th and 14th) were automatically relegated, to be replaced by Kyuden Voltex, the third team from Kyushu to enter the league, and Mitsubishi Dynaboars from Kanto.

Twelve teams 2003 to 2006[edit]

Third season (2005–6)[edit]

Main article: 2005–06 Top League

After the pre-season 2005 Challenge series, Secom and Sanix returned after a year out of the league, replacing Kintetsu and IBM. The following 12 teams competed in the third season:

Toshiba again won both the league round-robin and the Microsoft Cup knockout competition contested by the top 8 teams after the regular season. Coca Cola West Japan (now Coca Cola Red Sparks) gained promotion to the League at the end of the season. IBM also gained promotion to return to the league.

Second season (2004–5)[edit]

Main article: 2004–05 Top League

Following the 2004 Challenge series with IBM and Toyota being promoted, the following 12 teams competed in the second season:

Toshiba won both the league round-robin and the Microsoft Cup knockout competition contested by the top 8 teams after the regular season. The eleventh and twelfth teams (Kintetsu and IBM) were automatically relegated, and the ninth and tenth placed teams (World and Ricoh) had to win their 2005 promotion and relegation play-offs (Irekaesen) to stay in the Top League, which they did.

First season (2003–4)[edit]

Main article: 2003–04 Top League

The first season began with 12 teams:

Toshiba won the inaugural Top League title by finishing on top of the round-robin competition. The top eight teams qualified for the inaugural Microsoft Cup. Toshiba went on to lose the final of Microsoft Cup to NEC, but the cup was considered a separate competition to the Top League prior to 2007. Secom and Sanix were relegated at the end of the season. IBM and Toyota were promoted.


Season Top League champions
2014–15 tbc
2013–14 Sanyowildknights.png Panasonic Wild Knights
2012–13 Suntorycolours.png Suntory Sungoliath
2011–12 Suntorycolours.png Suntory Sungoliath
2010–11 Sanyowildknights.png Sanyo Wild Knights
2009–10 Toshibabravelupus.png Toshiba Brave Lupus
2008–09 Toshibabravelupus.png Toshiba Brave Lupus
2007–08 Suntorycolours.png Suntory Sungoliath
2006–07 Toshibabravelupus.png Toshiba Brave Lupus
2005–06 Toshibabravelupus.png Toshiba Brave Lupus
2004–05 Toshibabravelupus.png Toshiba Brave Lupus
2003–04 Kobesteelers.png Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers*


* NEC Green Rockets won the Microsoft Cup in 2003–04. The Cup was considered a separate competition to the Top League prior to 2007.

Notable Foreign Players[edit]

The following foreign players that have played in the Top League have either won or been nominated for a major IRB award, played in a Rugby World Cup, played for a touring side, or captained their national team.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The 4.25 million pound question". ESPN Scrum. 2012-05-24. Retrieved 2012-05-24. 

External links[edit]