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Mo'unga, Kiwis chasing Japan rugby title

Richie Mo'unga Brave Lupus Tokyo rugby
Former All Blacks Richie Mo'unga will lead Brave Lupus Tokyo in the Japan Rugby League One final. PHOTO: BRAVE LUPUS

Former All Blacks first-five Richie Mo'unga and more than a dozen other Kiwis will be hoping for a trophy raise come Sunday.

Mo'unga's Brave Lupus Tokyo face the Robbie Deans-coached Saitama Wild Knights in the Japan Rugby League One (JRLO) - Division 1 final at Tokyo's National Stadium on Sunday (kick-off 6.05pm NZ Time).

The ex Crusaders No 10 guided the Kiwi-laden Brave Lupus around the park and booted four conversions in their 28-20 semifinal victory over All Blacks skipper Sam Cane's Suntory Sungoliath last Sunday.

Along with Mo'unga, the Brave Lupus lineup included Waikato-bred Nicholas McCurran at second-five, former Otago and Highlanders back Michael Collins at centre, All Blacks flanker Shannon Frizell, the locking pair of Jacob Pierce and Warner Dearns and NZ-born former Japan captain Michael Leitch.

The Kiwis were in the scoring action, with former Auckland and Blues lock Jacob Pierce crossing in the 37th minute and 33-test All Black Frizell going over in the 55th minute to put them up 21-13.

Coached by former All Black and Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder, the Brave Lupus, which also features Rob Thompson, Seta Tamanivalu and Vea Taumoefolau, finished second in the regular season to the Wild Knights.

The Wild Knights, featuring former Chiefs flanker Lachlan Boshier and ex Otago and Highlanders prop Craig Millar, had to sweat out a 20-17 victory over the Yokohama Eagles in the semifinals last Saturday.

The Brave Lupus have not won Japan's top competition since completing a run of five titles in six years in 2009-10, while the Wild Knights, looking to complete a perfect season, have won five championships since 2013-14, the most recent in 2022.

Meanwhile, in France, ageless Kiwi first-five Jimmy Gopperth made a memorable 500th professional club appearance last weekend.

The former Wellington, North Harbour, Hurricanes and Blues No 10 brought up the rare milestone in Provence Rugby's 44-20 win over Grenoble in the Pro D2 competition last Friday (Saturday NZT).

Gopperth, who finished 11th in points scored in 26 matches during the regular season, kicked two conversions and a penalty in top-ranked Provence's regular season finale, but also received his first yellow card in more than six years just before halftime for a clumsy no-arms challenge.

The 40-year-old racked up his quintuple-century of matches with Wellington, the Hurricanes, North Harbour, the Blues, Newcastle Falcons, Leinster, Wasps, Leicester Tigers and the Barbarians over more than 20 years.

Provence, also featuring former Bay of Plenty and Chiefs centre Inga Folau, who scored 10 tries during the season, will play Grenoble again in the semifinals at home in Aix-en-Provence next Thursday (kick-off 7am Friday NZT).


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