When Toshiba fullback Francois Steyn’s conversion went off the goal post in second-half injury time, Panasonic players pumped their fists in the air to celebrate a victory that had almost slipped away.
Wild Knights survived Brave Lupus’ last-minute charge to notch a 27-26 victory in the final of the Top League playoff on Sunday at Tokyo’s Chichibunomiya Stadium, securing their third straight league championship.
Panasonic became the second team to complete a three-peat after Toshiba achieved the feat in the 2006-07 season.
“The game was too close to call,” Panasonic captain Shota Horie said during the postmatch interview. “Things fell our way at the end.”
The match between two rugby powerhouses went neck-to-neck until the end, entering halftime with a 17-14 lead for Panasonic. The defending champion retained its lead throughout the second half, but Toshiba seemed on its way to grabbing its first league title in six seasons when reserve Shohei Toyoshima stormed into the in-goal area 2 minutes into second-half injury time, cutting Panasonic’s lead to a single point.
However, Steyn’s kick from the difficult angle missed the goal, bringing Panasonic its third straight title.
“I couldn’t watch the kick. All I could do was to look down and pray,” Horie said.
In the third-place playoff, Yamaha Jubilo came back from a 12-point deficit in the first half to beat Kobe Kobelco Steelers 26-22.