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:
2013–14 Top League
TopLeaguelogo.png
Sport Rugby union
Instituted 2003
Number of teams 16
Country  Japan
Holders Suntory Sungoliath (3rd title) (2012–13)
Most titles Toshiba Brave Lupus (5 titles)
Website Official Website

The Top League is an industrial rugby union league created by the Japan Rugby Football Union to drive up the overall standard and popularity of the sport in the country and improve the results of the Japan national rugby union team. The first season was 2003–04 and featured 12 teams. From the 2006–07 season, the league was expanded to include 14 teams like SANZAR's then Super Rugby and France's Top 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]

Developments[edit]

  • 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.

Second-tier[edit]

Provincial leagues at Kantō, Kansai, Kyūshū region.

Seasons[edit]

Ninth Season (2011–12)[edit]

Main article: 2011–12 Top League

Pre-season

Teams

Team Region
Coca Cola West Red Sparks Fukuoka, Kyushu
Fukuoka Sanix Blues Fukuoka, Kyushu
Kintetsu Liners Osaka, Kansai
Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers Hyogo, Kansai
NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes Osaka, Kansai
NEC Green Rockets Chiba, Kanto
NTT Shining Arcs Chiba, Chiba
Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo, Kanto
Sanyo Wild Knights Gunma, Kanto
Suntory Sungoliath Tokyo, Kanto
Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo, Kanto
Toyota Verblitz Aichi, Tokai
Honda Heat Suzuka, Mie
Yamaha Jubilo Shizuoka, Tokai

Championship Play-offs

Top 4 sides of the regular season competed in a knock out tournament to fight for the Top League title.

The top 4 teams of 11–12 were Toshiba Brave Lupus, Panasonic Wild Knights, NEC Green Rockets and Suntory Sungoliath.

In Semi final No. 1 (Position 3 v Position 2), Toshiba Brave Lupus lost to Panasonic Wild Knights 25–37 at Chichibunomiya Stadium Tokyo.

In Semi Final No. 2 (Position 4 v Position 1), NEC Green Rockets lost to Suntory Sungoliath 8–56 at Chichibunomiya Stadium Tokyo.

Additionally in the wild card playoff Kobe Steel 32 – 19 Beat Ricoh Black Rams at Hanazono stadium Osaka

Kintetsu Rainazu lost 15 – 17 to Yamaha Motor at Hanazono stadium Osaka

In the final, Suntory Sungoliath will play the Panasonic Wild Knights.

Eighth Season (2010–11)[edit]

Main article: 2010–11 Top League

Pre-season

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.

Teams

Team Region
Coca Cola West Red Sparks Fukuoka, Kyushu
Fukuoka Sanix Blues Fukuoka, Kyushu
Kintetsu Liners Osaka, Kansai
Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers Hyogo, Kansai
Kubota Spears Chiba, Kanto
NEC Green Rockets Chiba, Kanto
NTT Shining Arcs Chiba, Chiba
Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo, Kanto
Sanyo Wild Knights Gunma, Kanto
Suntory Sungoliath Tokyo, Kanto
Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo, Kanto
Toyota Verblitz Aichi, Tokai
Toyota Industries Shuttles Aichi, Mizuho
Yamaha Jubilo Shizuoka, Tokai

Championship Play-offs

Top 4 sides of the regular season competed in a knock out tournament to fight for the Top League title. The top 4 teams of 10–11 were Toshiba Brave Lupus, Sanyo Wild Knights, Toyota Verblitz and Suntory Sungoliath.

In semi final 1, Suntory defeated Toshiba 17–12 and in semi final 2, Sanyo defeated Toyota 32–10.

In the final, Sanyo defeated Suntory 28–23.

Seventh season (2009–10)[edit]

For further details see 2009–10 Top League.

Pre-season

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.

Teams

Team Region
Coca Cola West Red Sparks Fukuoka, Kyushu
Fukuoka Sanix Blues Fukuoka, Kyushu
Honda Heat Suzuka, Mie
Kintetsu Liners Osaka, Kansai
Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers Hyogo, Kansai
Kubota Spears Chiba, Kanto
Kyuden Voltex Fukuoka, Kyushu
NEC Green Rockets Chiba, Kanto
Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo, Kanto
Sanyo Wild Knights Gunma, Kanto
Suntory Sungoliath Tokyo, Kanto
Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo, Kanto
Toyota Verblitz Aichi, Tokai
Yamaha Jubilo Shizuoka, Tokai

Sixth season (2008–9)[edit]

For further details see 2008-09 Top League.

Pre-season

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.

Teams

Team Region
Coca Cola West Red Sparks Fukuoka, Kyushu
Fukuoka Sanix Blues Fukuoka, Kyushu
IBM Big Blue Chiba, Kanto
Kintetsu Liners Osaka, Kansai
Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers Hyogo, Kansai
Kubota Spears Chiba, Kanto
Kyuden Voltex Fukuoka, Kyushu
NEC Green Rockets Chiba, Kanto
Sanyo Wild Knights Gunma, Kanto
Suntory Sungoliath Tokyo, Kanto
Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo, Kanto
Toyota Verblitz Aichi, Tokai
Yamaha Jubilo Shizuoka, Tokai
Yokogawa Musashino Atlastars Tokyo, Kanto

Fifth season (2007–8)[edit]

For further details see 2007-08 Top League.

Pre-season

Kyuden Voltex and Mitsubishi Dynaboars joined the league for the first time.

Teams

There are 14 teams, given in alphabetical order with their geographical location by prefecture, as follows:

Fukuoka Sanix Blues v Kyuden Voltex at Global Arena, Round 11, 20 January 2008
Team Region
Coca Cola West Red Sparks Fukuoka, Kyushu
Fukuoka Sanix Blues Fukuoka, Kyushu
IBM Big Blue Chiba, Kanto
Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers Hyogo, Kansai
Kubota Spears Chiba, Kanto
Kyuden Voltex Fukuoka, Kyushu
Mitsubishi Dynaboars Kanagawa, Kanto
NEC Green Rockets Chiba, Kanto
Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo, Kanto
Sanyo Wild Knights Gunma, Kanto
Suntory Sungoliath Tokyo, Kanto
Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo, Kanto
Toyota Verblitz Aichi, Tokai
Yamaha Jubilo Shizuoka, Tokai

Post-season

The top four teams (Sanyo, Suntory, Toyota and Toshiba) played in the fifth Microsoft Cup to decide the league champion. Suntory Sungoliath beat Sanyo Wild Knights 14–10 in the final on 24 February 2008 to become the 2007–08 League Champions.

Mitsubishi Dynaboars (14th) and Ricoh Black Rams (13th) were automatically relegated.

Fourth season (2006–7)[edit]

Pre-season

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.

Teams

Coca Cola West Red Sparks
Fukuoka Sanix Blues
IBM Big Blue
Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers
Kubota Spears
NEC Green Rockets
Ricoh Black Rams
Sanyo Wild Knights
Secom Rugguts
Suntory Sungoliath
Toshiba Brave Lupus
Toyota Verblitz
World Fighting Bull
Yamaha Jubilo

Post-season

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". The cup was won by Toshiba Brave Lupus which 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.

Third season (2005–6)[edit]

Pre-season

After the play-offs (see Top Challenge series below for details) the twelve teams were as follows. Secom and Sanix returned after a season out of the league, replacing Kintetsu and IBM.

Teams

Fukuoka Sanix Blues
Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers
Kubota Spears
NEC Green Rockets
Ricoh Black Rams
Sanyo Wild Knights
Secom Rugguts
Suntory Sungoliath
Toshiba Brave Lupus
Toyota Verblitz
World Fighting Bull
Yamaha Jubilo

Post-season

The top eight teams played in the Microsoft Cup.

Coca Cola West Japan (now Coca Cola Red Sparks) gained promotion to the League at the end of the season. IBM returned to the league.

Second season (2004–5)[edit]

Pre-season

IBM and Toyota gained promotion.

Teams

Kintetsu Liners
Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers
Kubota Spears
NEC Green Rockets
Nihon IBM Big Blue
Ricoh Black Rams
Sanyo Wild Knights
Suntory Sungoliath
Toshiba Brave Lupus
Toyota Verblitz
World Fighting Bull
Yamaha Jubilo

Post-season

The top eight teams played in the inaugural Microsoft Cup.

The eleventh and twelfth teams (Kintetsu and IBM) were automatically relegated, and the ninth and tenth placed teams (World and Ricoh) had to win play-offs to stay in the Top League, which they did.

First season (2003–4)[edit]

The first season began with 12 teams.

Teams

Fukuoka Sanix Blues
Kintetsu Liners
Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers
Kubota Spears
NEC Green Rockets
Ricoh Black Rams
Sanyo Wild Knights
Secom Rugguts
Suntory Sungoliath
Toshiba Brave Lupus
World Fighting Bull
Yamaha Jubilo

Post-season

Secom and Sanix were relegated at the end of the season. IBM and Toyota were promoted.

Top League Challenge series (2005)[edit]

(Note: The information below relates to the 2005 series. For details of the 2008 series see here.)

The top-placed regional teams from East Japan, West Japan and Kyushu played each other in Top Challenge One. The top two were automatically promoted, replacing the 11th and 12th teams which were automatically relegated. The third-placed team played the 10th placed Top League team, with the winner of that game taking a Top League place.

The second-placed regional teams played each other in Top Challenge Two for the right to play the 9th placed Top League team, with the winner taking a Top League place.

This structure continues unchanged in 2008, except that there are now 14 teams (not 12) in the Top League.

Top Challenge One[edit]

2005

16 January: Secom Rugguts 0 Fukuoka Sanix Bombs 34 (Komazawa, Tokyo)
23 January: Fukuoka Sanix Bombs 41 Toyota Jido Shokki [Toyota Industries] 36 (Hakata no Mori, Fukuoka)
29 January: Toyota Jido Shokki 17 Secom Rugguts 24 (Mizuho Koen, Nagoya)

So Sanix and Secom were promoted to the Top League for 2005-6.

Top Challenge Two[edit]

16 January: Mitsubishi Juko [Heavy Industries] Sagamihara 14 Coca Cola West Japan 62 (Komazawa, Tokyo)
23 January: Coca Cola West Japan 15 Honda Heat 28 (Hakata no Mori, Fukuoka)
29 January: Honda Heat 31 Mitsubishi Juko Sagamihara 54 (Mizuho Koen, Nagoya)

So Honda Heat won the right to play World Fighting Bull for a place in the Top League 2005-6. (Honda Heat came top in Top Challenge Two because they gained a bonus point for the number of tries scored against Mitsubishi Juko Sagamihara.)

Promotion/Relegation games (Irekaesen)[edit]

13 February

Toyota Jido Shokki 7 Ricoh Black Rams 42
Honda Heat 0 World Fighting Bull 49

So Ricoh and World stayed in the Top League for the 2006–7 season.

Champions[edit]

Season Top 14 champions
2003–04 Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers*
2004–05 Toshiba Brave Lupus
2005–06 Toshiba Brave Lupus
2006–07 Toshiba Brave Lupus
2007–08 Suntory Sungoliath
2008–09 Toshiba Brave Lupus
2009–10 Toshiba Brave Lupus
2010–11 Sanyo Wild Knights
2011–12 Suntory Sungoliath
2012–13 Suntory Sungoliath

Notes:

* 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]

References[edit]

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

External links[edit]