A coaching duel spanning more than 20 years provides its latest chapter in Tokyo when the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights tackle Suntory Sungoliath in Japan rugby’s inaugural League One final.
Sungoliath director of rugby Eddie Jones and Wild Knights coach Robbie Deans have directly or indirectly plotted against each other since the final of Super Rugby in 2000.
Deans got one over Jones then, guiding the Crusaders to an epic 20-19 win against the Brumbies.
The title was the first of five Deans won with the Super Rugby heavyweight, four more than Jones, whose sole success was achieved in 2001.
This was largely due to his elevation to coach the Wallabies later that year, where he guided Australia to victory in the Tri-Nations at his first attempt.
Deans joined John Mitchell’s All Blacks staff as coaching coordinator in 2002.
The pair reclaimed the Bledisloe Cup for New Zealand after a five-year absence in 2003, as well as winning back-to-back Tri Nations, but Jones had the last laugh as his Wallabies knocked the All Blacks out of the 2003 World Cup in a pulsating semi-final.
Both men achieved similar records coaching Australia, each winning a Tri-Nations, and each finishing with winning records over 50 per cent.
Jones has achieved significant success since with Japan and England but his links with Suntory remain while continuing to hold the coaching reins at Twickenham.
Deans joined the Wild Knights in 2014, allowing the rivalry to resume.
It’s appropriate that the influential coaching pair should clash again on Sunday afternoon, in the title match of Japan’s new streamlined domestic club competition.
The Wild Knights, who beat Sungoliath in last year’s final, are currently on a 31-game unbeaten streak.
But injury has left Deans without Japan’s influential starting Test five-eighth Rikiya Matsuda.
England Test lock George Kruis has overcome injury to play, after missing last week’s semi-final.
His return means Australian forward Esei Ha’angana misses out, although the Wild Knights’ backbone of lock Jack Cornelsen, loose forward Ben Gunter, centre Dylan Riley, winger Marika Koroibete and reserve back Semisi Tupou were all either Australian born, or schooled.
Suntory will look to their main man, former Wallaby vice-captain Samu Kerevi, along with All Blacks utility Damien McKenzie, to provide the spark.