Top League


Top League

Infobox sports league
current_season=2008-09 Top League
logo=TopLeaguelogo.gif
pixels=100px
sport=Rugby Union
founded=2003
teams=14
country=JPN
champion=Suntory Sungoliath
In an effort to drive up the overall standard and popularity within Japan of Japanese rugby and improve the results of the Japan national rugby union team, the Japan Rugby Football Union created a new semi-professional 12-team league, called the Top League. The first season was 2003-4. From the 2006-7 season the league was expanded to include 14 teams like the Super 14 and the 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.

The league has a JRFU-appointed chairman and a commissioner.

Major Developments and Rule Changes

*From the 2008-9 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. ( [http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/20080228TDY18309.htm Daily Yomiuri, February 28, 2008] ). Video referee decisions will be introduced in this season's Microsoft Cup.

*From the 2007-8 season a timekeeping system independent of the referee was introduced.

*From the 2006-7 season the league was expanded from 12 to 14 teams.

ixth season (2008-9)

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

Fifth season (2007-8)

"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:

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 February 24, 2008 to become the 2007-08 League Champions.

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

Fourth season (2006-7)

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)

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.

econd season (2004-5)

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)

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)

"(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

2005

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

January 16: [Mitsubishi Dynaboars|Mitsubishi Juko [Heavy Industries] Sagamihara] 14 Coca Cola West Japan 62 (Komazawa, Tokyo)
January 23: Coca Cola West Japan 15 Honda Heat 28 (Hakata no Mori, Fukuoka)
January 29: 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")

February 13

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.

Top League Champions

* 2003-4 Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers
* 2004-5 Toshiba Brave Lupus
* 2005-6 Toshiba Brave Lupus
* 2006-7 Toshiba Brave Lupus
* 2007-8 Suntory Sungoliath

See also

* Microsoft Cup
* Japan national rugby union team
* Ruatangi Vatuvei - scored a record 18 tries in the 2004-5 season

External links

* [http://www.rugbyjapan.com/info/050207.htm Top League awards 2005]
* [http://www.top-league.jp/team/index.jsp Team Profiles] (Japanese)
* [http://www.top-league.jp/index.html Top League official site] (Japanese)
* [http://www.jrfu-members.com/open/movie/index.html Top League video digest]


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