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Rugby: Panasonic reach playoffs and make sure they finish top of conference

KUMAGAYA, Saitama -- Panasonic Wild Knights picked up their 11th straight win of the season Sunday to become the second side to book a spot in the playoffs to determine the Japan Rugby Top League champions.

    Robbie Deans' side ran in six tries to beat Munakata Sanix Blues 42-7 at Kumagaya Athletic Ground in Saitama to ensure they will top the White Conference when the regular season ends on Dec. 24.

    Panasonic have 54 points (from a possible 55), 13 more than second-placed Yamaha Jubilo, who they meet on the final weekend, and 15 more than Ricoh Blacks Rams, who they play next week.

    This season the league has been split into two conferences of eight teams.

    Teams play the seven other sides in their conference plus six from the other group to determine the rankings for the end of season playoffs, with the top four sides competing for the league title, which doubles as the All-Japan Championship.

    There are three other playoff blocks to determine fifth to 16th positions with the bottom side automatically relegated.

    In the day's other game at Osaka's Kincho Stadium, Toshiba Brave Lupus beat Kubota Spears 38-22 to keep alive their chances of finishing in the top two in the Red Conference.

    Suntory Sungoliath, who ensured they are in the top playoff bracket with a win over NEC Green Rockets on Saturday, lead the group with 47 points.

    Toyota Verblitz are currently second with 38 points, Kobe Kobelco Steelers third with 36 and Toshiba fourth with 33, with two rounds and a possible 10 points remaining.

    Despite playing a number of second-stringers, Panasonic were simply too good for Sanix.

    The Blues started brightly in Kumagaya as the much-changed Wild Knights took some time to get their combinations going.

    But the floodgates finally opened in the 20th minute when lock Ryota Hasegawa powered over from a well constructed driving maul.

    Rikiya Matsuda crossed four minutes later following a good break by Digby Ioane, who added a third try just before halftime.

    Takuya Yamasawa added the extras to all three five-pointers as the side turned around with the score 21-0.

    Man-of-the-match Matsuda added a second try 10 minutes into the second stanza and he was followed onto the scoresheet by Keisuke Moriya following a good break by Tevita Tupou, who was deputizing for David Pocock.

    Japan's Rugby World Cup 2015 hero Karne Hesketh set up Toshihiro Nishii for a try for Sanix in the 61st minute. But that was as good as it got for the Blues as Yamasawa ensured he finished the day with a try to go with his six conversions.

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