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Deans shows he’s still boss in Japan rugby

It was the battle between the master and two of his apprentices, but Robbie Deans showed he was still the boss as Panasonic qualified for rugby’ union’s Top League final in Japan.

The Wild Knights, spearheaded by a hat-trick from retiring Japanese Rugby World Cup hero Kenki Fukuoka, blew Toyota Verblitz away in the final 20 minutes of their semi-final in Osaka, scoring 28 unanswered points to romp to a 48-21 win.

In doing so, Deans reminded two of his former lieutenants who was still boss, as defeat ended the Japanese campaigns of Wallaby skipper Michael Hooper and ex-All Black captain Kieran Read.

The former Wallabies coach played an influential role in the development of both players’ careers, introducing Read to the Crusaders as a 21-year-old in 2007, and Hooper to the Wallabies five years later.

The hugely-popular Read brought the curtain down on his glittering 16-year professional career after the game, having featured in 127 Tests for the All Blacks and 156 games for the Crusaders.

Panasonic will face Suntory in the final after the Sungoliath, led by 21 points from the boot of All Black flyhalf Beauden Barrett, disposed of the Kubota Spears 26-9 in the second semi-final on Sunday.

Former Wallaby Sean McMahon and Queensland lock Harry Hockings were both impressive in a Suntory pack that dominated its much-vaunted Kubota opposites.

Sunday’s decider at Tokyo’s Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium is a replay of the 2018 final which Suntory won 12-8.

It is Panasonic’s fifth appearance in the final during Deans’ eight-year association, as he bids to add a fourth Top League to the five Super Rugby titles, he achieved from nine seasons running the Crusaders.

Panasonic made a blistering start on Saturday, with Fukuoka finishing off an 80-metre move from the kick-off to open the scoring, but Toyota immediately rallied.

With punishing former NSW Waratahs lock Jed Holloway prominent, Verblitz stunned their opponents with tries in the fourth, ninth and 16th minutes to briefly rattle the Wild Knights.

Panasonic closed to one point at halftime, trailing 18-17, before turning on the power in the final quarter, with Australian-born centre Dylan Riley one of the try-scorers as the Wild Knights overran their rivals.

Fukuoka, who is retiring to become a doctor, stole the show, scoring two of the last three tries to complete his second hattrick of the season.

He will now play for a maiden Top League title in the final 80 minutes of his career.

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