Rugby: Beauden Barrett's Suntory Sungoliath lose Japan Top League final to Panasonic Wild Knights

Beauden Barrett's Japanese sabbatical has ended in Top League final defeat, with his Suntory Sungoliath falling to Panasonic Wild Knights 31-26 in Tokyo. 

The All Blacks playmaker exercised the sabbatical clause in his NZ Rugby contract to play the season abroad and will now return to New Zealand for the All Blacks duty in July. 

Barrett has been in sublime form while playing first-five for the Sungoliath, scoring 168 points, including a hat-trick of tries in his final regular-season game. 

But he fell short of a championship, as the Robbie Deans-coached Panasonic Wild Knights cruised to a three-try-to-four victory for their fourth title. 

The afternoon didn't start well for the 29-year-old, when his pass was intercepted by Wild Knights midfielder Dylan Riley for the game's opening try at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.

The boot of Rikiya Matsuda extended the lead for Panasonic, before wing Kenki Fukuoka crossed to stretch the margin to 20 points, just nine minutes before half-time. 

The Sungoliath finally scored their first points, when midfielder Ryoto Nakamura grabbed a try five minutes before the break. 

Trailling 23-7 at halftime, Sungoliath stormed out of the sheds, when wing Takaaki Nakazuru crossed to reduce the deficit to 11 points, but Panasonic continued to assert their dominance.

 Wild Knights prop Asaeli Ai Valu seemed to have sealed the result with his side's third try, but Sungoliath stormed back into the contest, as they hunted their sixth title. 

Barrett's boot kept his side in the contest, before his team set up a grandstand finish, with halfback Naoto Saito and fullback Seiya Ozaki crossing for tries in the closing moments to reduce the deficit to just five points.

But Deans' side held on to claim their fourth title and first since  2016.

Barrett will now return home to complete two weeks in managed isolation and is available for selection in the first All Blacks squad of the year, but ineligible for the Blues in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.