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R246 Lions the new boys in Japan's Top League 2012

Asia

The Japanese AFL Top League kicks off the 2012 season on May 12th with the introduction of a completely new team, the R246 Lions. The Lions will bring the league to a seven-team competition playing at 9-a-side.

The Lions could well be the most uniquely named team in world footy in that the name is derived from Route 246, the highway that connects Tokyo with Kanagawa. The Lions aim to establish themselves as a community based club although the bulk of the players are graduates from Nippon Sport Science University (NSSU) and are very new to footy. The NSSU is considered the most traditional and honoured sports university in Japan.

The Lions founders, Jun Sekiguchi and Michito Sakaki (pictured with Kevin Sheedy) however are seasoned participants; Jun was assistant coach of the Samurai at IC11, and Michito, a highly respected player in Japanese football having been named in the Allstars team at IC05 and the World Team at IC08. He also played a preseason at Essendon in 2006 making the squad to play the Sydney Swans in a pre-season match in February that year.

The genesis of the R246 Lions was in Jun Sekiguchi introducing footy to a small group of friends who in turn brought along some of their friends to the next training session. More new friends were recruited until 16 players were training together. It was then decided to contest the Pocari Sweat Cup, a one day tournament held in October 2011. The 'Lions' managed to finish equal fifth with the Tokyo Goannas.

 

The Lions then played a curtain raiser at the 2011 grand final against a team of first and second year students, winning this match by 30 points.

The Lions were then invited to play as a guest team in the 'Heritage Cup', a gathering of current players and old boys from the Tokyo Leopards. Surprisingly the Lions won the tournament and had gathered a 'fan club' of some 20 supporters. By the end of the Lions' 2011 activities they had built a player and supporter base of over 50 people. Many, including Azumi Kishi and Ai Sichinohe, who had helped run and manage the team and Shunpei Kanda who had put in some 'hard yakka' for the fledgling team and recruited a number of his friends, were keen for the Lions to continue. As a result it was decided to field a team in the Japan Top League.

The NSSU coaches and trains athletes to excel at a wide variety of sports, such as mixed martial arts, basketball, lifesaving, Sepak takraw#, lacrosse, soccer, track and field, rugby and volleyball all of which is played at top university level.

The Lions have drawn upon athletes who have excelled at many of these sports; Takuya Koizumi has quickly adapted his lacrosse and basketball skills to read the game well and has strong marking skills; Yo Sato and Tomoya Akita are both professional mixed martial arts fighters and have no fear when attacking the ball and Takeru Gushiken, an Okinawan, has super athletic ability at volleyball and sepak takraw which has him able to out-leap all the other players.

The Lions have collected a group of talented and very athletic players and are confident of making an impact in the Top League in their very first year.

R246 lions will play their first game against Tokyo Goannas on the 20th May 2012.

Japan can boast the oldest non-English speaking league that started in 1987 following an exhibition match played between Essendon and Hawthorn in Tokyo. The oldest club is Senshu Power, a university based team that was one of the foundation teams of Japanese Footy. The Samurai, Japan's national team have played at "international" level since the late 1990's and early 2000's with participation in the Arafura games in Darwin, Australia.

Japan has also contested all the International Cups, the best placing being 8th in IC08.

There are moves to expand the league with another team from Kansai (Okasa) region or Kobe or Hiroshima over the next couple of years.

Plans are afoot in 2012 to run a junior development program with footy clinics in High Schools in Kawasaki City. This follows on from clinics that have been run in sports clubs and schools over the last several years.

A question for our readers.  Did you know that there is only one 'oval' in Japan and that belongs to the Japan Cricket Association that is located near Mt. Fuji?

# Sepak Takraw: a game similar to volleyball but the use of other parts of the body to hit the ball (often made from rattan) such as the head, shoulders, knees and feet is allowed; only three players-a-side. A sport played through out South East Asia. 

Thanks to Hideki Miyasaka and Jun Sekiguchi for assistance with this story.

Jun Sekiguchi (with strapped shoulder is pictured)

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