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Rugby: Kobe Steel top Toshiba as final Top League positions determined

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The final placings for the 2017-18 Japan Rugby Top League season were determined Sunday following the last four games of the playoffs.

    A day after Suntory Sungoliath won the league by defeating Panasonic Wild Knights in a thrilling final, Kobe Kobelco Steelers finished fifth by beating Toshiba Brave Lupus 41-17 at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.

    In a game that featured three members of the New Zealand's 2011 Rugby World Cup-winning team, Andy Ellis had the last laugh over Toshiba's Richard Kahui and Stephen Donald.

    The former All Blacks scrumhalf scored one try and created another as the Steelers led 22-0 at the break.

    Kenji Shomen added two more five-pointers in the second half as the Steelers made sure they prepare for the June arrival of two-time RWC winner Dan Carter on somewhat of a high.

    Seventh spot in the standings went to Ricoh after they beat NEC Green Rockets 44-20 at the same ground, with Colin Bourke scoring three tries and setting up another for the Black Rams.

    NTT Communications Shining Arcs topped Canon Eagles for ninth place thanks to a 38-32 win at Nagoya's Paloma Mizuho Rugby Field in which Jumpei Ogura scored a try, five conversions and a penalty goal.

    Kubota Spears finished 11th after they came from behind in Nagoya to beat Toyota Industries Shuttles 31-10 with Hiroaki Sugimoto touching down twice for Frans Ludeke's team.

    The domestic season concludes Jan. 20 with three relegation/promotion games featuring the teams that finished 13th to 15th in the Top League and the second to fourth-placed finishers in the Top Challenge League.

    With the next Rugby World Cup, to be hosted by Japan, less than two years away, the Japan Rugby Football Union has made some big changes to the way the Top League will be run over the next two seasons.

    The format for the 2018-19 tournament sees an even shorter 10-game campaign beginning in September and finishing in December, with the 2019-20 season set to start in January 2020 and finish in May of that year.

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