FUKUOKA, Jan. 9, Kyodo
NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes edged ever closer to a Japan Rugby Top League return on Monday as they beat Kyuden Voltex 39-12 in Top Challenge 1.
The tournament features the three regional champions and the best runner-up with the winner of the round-robin competition automatically promoted to the top flight. The three other sides get another bite of the cherry as they play the sides finishing 13th to 15th in the Top League in one-off promotion/relegation playoff games.
Honda Heat ensured they would be the team automatically relegated from the Top League on Sunday, when they lost to NEC Green Rockets, while Coca-Cola Red Sparks, Toyota Industries Shuttles and Kintetsu Liners will contest the playoffs.
Top West champions Docomo, who were relegated from the top flight last season, were too good for Kyuden, outscoring the Top Kyushu winners six tries to two with wing Koki Shigeno bagging a brace.
Docomo play Top East champions Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars next week knowing they need just a bonus point to win automatic promotion.
Mitsubishi beat Hino Red Dolphins 29-7 to move into second place in the round-robin tournament with six points, four behind Docomo and two ahead of Kyuden.
Former Japan center Ryan Nicholas was the Dynaboars hero, the 37-year-old scoring three tries, two conversions and a penalty goal.