In the fourteenth season of Top League, Suntory dominated the Best XV for the 2016-17 season filling six places while Yamaha and Panasonic had three spots each. Ricoh, Kobe and Kubota had one each.
There were nine players making the Best XV for the first time, following on from seven debutants last year. Panasonic loosehead prop Keita Inagaki and Panasonic lock Daniel Heenan were the only players to appear in the XV last season. Three of the fifteen were born overseas.
Suntory wing Takaaki Nakazuru took the headline aware as “Best and Fairest for the 2016-17 season”. Nakazuru was joined by five of his teammates in the league’s Top XV with Ono, scrumhalf Yutaka Nagare and fullback Kotaro Matsushima, named in the backs and lock Joe Wheeler and flanker George Smith in the forwards.Smith returned to Suntory this season after two seasons in Europe, during which he was named the English Premiership Player of the Year.
Best Young player – Shuhei Matsuhashi, No8, from Ricoh, was named best youngest player for the season.
Matsuhashi graduated from Meiji University. New Japan head coach Jamie Joseph picked Matsuhashi in his national squad for the autumn 2016 internationals and he made his debut from the bench against Argentina in Tokyo. He also started from the bench against Wales and Fiji. At the time of writing, he has three caps.
Top try scorers: Takaaki Nakazuru, wing, Suntory 17 tries.
Top goal kicker: Gerhard van den Heever, fullback, Yamaha, 151 points from 59 conversions and 11 penalties at 82.35% success rate. Many in the Aviva Premiership would be happy with that kicking rate.