Japan Rugby League One

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Japan Rugby League One
Current season
2023–24 Japan Rugby League One – Division 1
SportRugby union
Formerly known asTop League (2003–2021)
Instituted2003
Inaugural season2003–04
Number of teams12
Country Japan
ChampionsKubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay
(2022-23)
Most titles(6 titles)
Websiteleague-one.en
Broadcast partnerJ Sports
DAZN
The Rugby Network
Related competitionTop Challenge League

Found promotion, Found relegation,

Japan Rugby League One (formerly the Top League) is a rugby union competition in Japan. It is the highest level of professional rugby competition in the country. The Japan Rugby Football Union created the competition in 2003, by absorbing the Japan Company Rugby Football Championship, to drive up the overall standard and popularity of the sport and improve the results of the Japan national rugby union team. 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.

Until 2022, it was an industrial league, where many players were employees of their company and the teams were all owned by major companies. While the competition was known for paying high salaries, only world-class foreign players and a small number of Japanese players played fully professionally, which meant most of the players still played in an amateur capacity. The delayed 2021 season was the final season of the Top League, with the JRFU adopting a new fully-professional three-tier system from 2022.[1] More details about the new structure was announced to the media in January 2021. Featuring 25 teams, the 12 top-tier clubs would be split into two conferences, with seven teams competing in division two and six in division three.[2] The new competition was formally announced as Japan Rugby League One in July 2021.[3]

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 Top League is played during the off-season of the Super Rugby, Therefore, many full-time foreign professionals from Southern Hemisphere countries have played in the Top League, notably Tony Brown, George Gregan and Dan Carter. 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 Kobelco Steelers, was widely reported to be the world's highest-paid player.[4]

Rugby System's Divisions[edit]

The 2023-24 format for the Japanese club system is divided into three divisions.

Division 1[edit]

The league consists of 12 teams based in various cities in the country.

Division 2[edit]

Division 3[edit]

Developments[edit]

Former logo 2003–2021
  • 2006–07: The league was expanded from 12 to 14 teams.
  • 2007–08: A timekeeping system independent of the referee was introduced.
  • 2008–09: Video referee (TMO) decisions were introduced for the Microsoft Cup play-off tournament.
  • 2008–09: Three foreign players per team are allowed on the field at one time, one more than previously. Additionally, one member of an Asian union (such as South Korean Kim Kwang Mo for Sanyo Wild Knights) is permitted to take the field for each team.
  • 2009–10: One of the three foreign players allowed on the field must have played, or be eligible, for Japan.[5]
  • 2013–14: The league was expanded from 14 to 16 teams.
  • 2014–15: Video referee (TMO) decisions introduced for all league games.[6]
  • 2014–15: Playoff tournament sponsored as the Lixil Cup.[6]
  • 2021: Japan Rugby League One announced as the new league name, starting from the 2022 season.[citation needed]

Related competitions[edit]

A second-tier Top League Challenge Series was also introduced in 2003. Between 2003–04 and 2016–17, teams from three regional leagues would qualify to this post-season competition, in which they could either win promotion to the next season's Top League, or qualify to promotion play-off matches.

In 2017, a second-tier Top Challenge League was introduced, to operate in a league format above the regional leagues.[7]

The regional leagues are:

With the creation of Rugby League One and its three divisions, the raison d'etre for the Top Challenge League ceased to exist, and it was discontinued.

Seasons[edit]

Sixteen teams: 2012 onwards[edit]

Fourteen teams: 2006 to 2012[edit]

Ninth season (2011–12)[edit]

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 Top League Champions 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]

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 Communications 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]

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]

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 Sagamihara DynaBoars. The following teams were in the league:

Fifth season (2007–8)[edit]

Fukuoka Sanix Blues v Kyuden Voltex at Global Arena, Round 11, 20 January 2008

Kyuden Voltex and Mitsubishi Sagamihara 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]

The number of teams was increased from 12 to 14. Coca-Cola West Red Sparks 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 Sagamihara DynaBoars from Kanto.

Twelve teams 2003 to 2006[edit]

Third season (2005–6)[edit]

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 West 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]

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]

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.

Champions[edit]

Season Champions
Top League
2003–04 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
2013–14 Panasonic Wild Knights
2014–15 Panasonic Wild Knights
2015–16 Panasonic Wild Knights
2016–17 Suntory Sungoliath
2017–18 Suntory Sungoliath
2018–19 Kobelco Steelers
2019–20 season cancelled
2021 Panasonic Wild Knights
Japan Rugby League One
2022 Saitama Wild Knights
2023 Kubota Spears
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 combined-nations touring side, or captained their national team.

New Zealand Kieran Read (2007–present) – 2011, 2015 and 2019 World Cups (2015 Champions)
New Zealand Ben Smith (2007–present) – 2015 and 2019 World Cups (2015 Champions)
New Zealand Aaron Cruden (2010–present) – 2011 World Cup (Champions)
New Zealand Beauden Barrett (2011–present) – 2015 and 2019 World Cups (2015 Champions)
New Zealand TJ Perenara (2012–present) – 2015 and 2019 World Cups (2015 Champions)
New Zealand Sam Whitelock (2010–present) – 2011, 2015 and 2019 World Cups (2015 Champions)
New Zealand Matt Todd (2011–present) – 2019 World Cup
New Zealand Brodie Retallick (2012–present) – 2015 and 2019 World Cups (2015 Champions)
New Zealand Dan Carter (2018–2020)  – 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 World Cups (2011 and 2015 Champions)
New Zealand Ma'a Nonu (2011–2020) – 2003, 2007 and 2011 World Cups (2011 Champions)
New Zealand Sonny Bill Williams (2012–2020) – 2011 and 2015 World Cups (2011 and 2015 Champions)
New Zealand Ryan Crotty (2009–2020) – 2019 World Cup
New Zealand Jerome Kaino (2004–2018) – 2011 and 2015 World Cups (2011 and 2015 Champions)
New Zealand Rico Gear (1999–2010) – 20-capped New Zealand international
New Zealand Leon MacDonald (1997–2010) – 2003 and 2007 World Cups
New Zealand Reuben Thorne (1996–2009) – 1999, 2003 and 2007 World Cups
New Zealand Jerry Collins (1999–2015) – 2003 and 2007 World Cups
New Zealand Tony Brown (1999–2011) – 1999 World Cup
Australia Quade Cooper (2006–present) – 2011 World Cup
Australia Adam Ashley-Cooper (2017–2018)  – 2007, 2011 and 2015 World Cups
Australia Berrick Barnes (2013–present)  – 2007 and 2011 World Cups
Australia Matt Cockbain (2004–2006)  – 1999 and 2003 World Cups (1999 Champions)
Australia David Pocock (2016–2018) – 2010 and 2011 IRB Player of the Year nominee; 2011 and 2015 World Cups
Australia Bernard Foley (2015–2016) – 2015 World Cup
Australia Matt Giteau (2017–2020) – 2003, 2007 and 2015 World Cups
Australia Mark Gerrard (2010–2018) – 2003 and 2007 World Cups
Australia George Gregan (2008–2011) – 1999, 2003 and 2007 World Cups (1999 Champions); 2003 and 2007 World Cup Team Captain
Australia George Smith (2011–2018) – 2001 IRB Player of the Year nominee; 2003 and 2007 World Cups
Australia Digby Ioane (2017–2019) – 2011 World Cup
Australia Toutai Kefu (2004–2010) – 1999 and 2003 World Cups (1999 Champions)
Australia Stephen Larkham (2008–2011) – 1999, 2003 and 2007 World Cups (1999 Champions)
Australia Nathan Grey (2003–2011) – 1999 and 2003 World Cups (1999 Champions)
Australia Ben McCalman (2015–2016) – 2011 and 2015 World Cups
Australia Sean McMahon (2017–present)  – 2015 World Cup
Australia Wycliff Palu (2016–2017) – 2007, 2011 and 2015 World Cups
Australia Joe Roff (2005–2006) – 1999 and 2003 World Cups (1999 Champions)
Australia Craig Wing (2010–2013) – Australian Rugby League international
Canada Colin Yukes – 2003 and 2007 World Cups
England James Haskell (2011–2012) – 2011 World Cup
England George Kruis (2020–2022) – 2015 and 2019 World Cups
England Joe Launchbury (2022–2023) – 2015 and 2019 World Cups
England Geoff Parling (2017–2018) – 2012 British and Irish Lions
Fiji Kele Leawere – 2003 and 2007 World Cups
Fiji Nemani Nadolo – 2015 World Cup
Fiji Marika Vunibaka – 1999 and 2003 World Cups
Samoa Seilala Mapusua – 2007 and 2011 World Cups; 2004, 2006 and 2008 Pacific Islanders international
Samoa Semo Sititi – 1999, 2003 and 2007 World Cups; 2007 World Cup Team Captain; 2004, 2006 and 2008 Pacific Islanders international
Samoa Alesana Tuilagi – 2007 and 2011 World Cups; 2006 Pacific Islanders international
South Africa Thinus Delport (2008–2010) – 2003 World Cup
South Africa Jacque Fourie – 2006 and 2009 IRB Player of the Year nominee
South Africa Fourie du Preez (2011–2016) – 2007 and 2011 World Cups (2007 Champions)
South Africa Danie Rossouw – 2003, 2007 and 2011 World Cups (2007 Champions)
South Africa Jaco van der Westhuyzen – 2003 World Cup Team Captain
South Africa Kwagga Smith (2018–present) – 2019 World Cup
South Africa Faf de Klerk (2022–present) – 2019 World Cup
Tonga Pierre Hola – 2003 and 2007 World Cups
Tonga Hale T-Pole – 2007 World Cup
Tonga Sione Tuʻipulotu – 1999 and 2007 World Cups
United States Todd Clever – 2003, 2007 and 2011 World Cups; former USA captain
United States Mike Hercus (2008–2009) – 2003 and 2007 World Cups
Wales Shane Williams – 2003, 2007 and 2011 World Cups; 2005, 2009 and 2013 British and Irish Lions

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Framework of Entry Conditions to New League". JRFU. 1 July 2020. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  2. ^ "Japan's new rugby union league to launch in 2022". Sports Pro Media. 18 January 2021. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  3. ^ "La nouvelle ligue japonaise s'appelle la Japan Rugby League One". Asie Rugby (in French). 16 July 2021. Retrieved 16 July 2021.
  4. ^ "The 4.25 million pound question". ESPN Scrum. 24 May 2012. Retrieved 24 May 2012.
  5. ^ Daily Yomiuri, 28 February 2008
  6. ^ a b "Top League to introduce new officiating system this season". The Japan Times. 21 August 2014. Archived from the original on 13 January 2015.
  7. ^ "Japan to add second-tier rugby league in 2017". The Japan Times. 19 August 2016. Archived from the original on 6 January 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2017.

External links[edit]