All Blacks star Damian McKenzie steered Tokyo Sungoliath to a 30-24 victory over Brave Lupus Tokyo in a gripping League One semifinal battle on Saturday.
The momentum swung back and forth between the two sides at Osaka Prefecture's Hanazono Rugby Stadium before Ryoto Nakamura's 59th-minute try gave Sungoliath the lead for good.
With fullback McKenzie providing pinpoint kicking and tough tackling in big moments, the Milton Haig-coached Sungoliath, who finished the regular season top of the table, were able to hold off a late surge from fourth-placed Brave Lupus.
They will play the winner of Sunday's semifinal between Saitama Wild Knights and Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay for the inaugural League One championship a week from Sunday at Tokyo's National Stadium.
McKenzie missed an early penalty before Hayata Nakao put Brave Lupus on the board with a successful three-point attempt in the 17th minute.
Sungoliath scored the first try seven minutes later, when winger Seiya Ozaki intercepted a pass intended for Brave Lupus flanker Michael Leitch and sprinted across from deep inside his own half.
Brave Lupus went back in front after Jacob Pierce dotted down off a rolling maul, but the lead was short-lived, with McKenzie leveling the scores at 10-10 from a penalty.
Takahiro Ogawa's converted try off a turnover put Brave Lupus up 17-10 before Sungoliath prop Shintaro Ishihara's five-pointer in the corner led to a 17-all halftime deadlock.
Ogawa darted over for his second try just five minutes after the break, with Nakao adding the extras for a 24-17 lead that Sungoliath quickly whittled to 24-23 thanks to back-to-back McKenzie penalties.
Sungoliath regained the lead when Japan international Nakamura crossed from 10 meters out after a bruising carry toward the goal line by Wallabies World Cup star Samu Kerevi.
In a crucial decision, the television match official ruled Brave Lupus replacement Sione Lavemai was held up in goal late in the game after bulldozing across the line through multiple tacklers.