(Sunday 2nd September – Shuto League ,Yanokouchi, Tokyo, Japan )
Much like the their forefathers, this group of mortal men would not live up to the reputation set them by their predecessors.
The teams gathered at the beautiful setting of the Yanokouchi ground for the 2 pm kickoff for the first game of the summer/autumn competition, the Shuto League. The ground, which is a couple of yards short, would test the capacities of the two foreign- based player teams in this competition. As we would find at the end of the match, the Crusaders would also be short of a couple of yards.
This was a game that would become punctuated by calls for support (or screams of intolerable pain still to be deciphered), short bursts of bad language and the most unfortunate but always necessary blowing of a whistle.
The game started positively for the TGRFC with the forwards getting to the ball and over it early to string some early phase work together. Nice ball was set up and with the ball moving along the back-line early from a good platform, the Gaijin supporters found themselves all licking their lips with the idea of a good game ahead. Then in stepped the man with the whistle. He blew up the game for some small indiscretion and awarded a penalty for the TGRFC. Whilst we are never ones to complain when we receive calls in our favour, it was an ominous precursor of the way the game would be policed.
The game ebbed and flowed in the early stanza with most of the ground being gained from penalty clearances.
Early pressure on the Gaijin defence held up after a charge at the line from a 5metre tap penalty. The knock on and following clearance from a scrum was a good test of the character of the team early.
The first sign of some enterprising play came courtesy of club stalwart Joffa Harris. A surge through a yawning gap took play up field with the forwards linking well to continue up field. Apisai Bati made his presence felt just to the right of the breakdown with some close range hit ups to suck in defenders. A knock on with the goal line in sight meant that the Crusaders had an opportunity to clear the ball.
The backline was linking well in the three quarters and at the water break after 15 minutes (due to the stifling heat and humidity) with the score level at 0 v 0, the Gaijin had a fair share of possession and most likely an advantage in territory stakes.
When the game started again the referee made a dubious call on the Crusaders for going down at ruck time. I`m glad he saw it because no one else did. The following kick that was fumbled by the Crusaders meant that the Gaijin had a scrum that was 20m out from the Cru line. Murray Clarke jumping well at lineout time ensured that the Gaijin would retain the ball, and after more penalties from hands in the ruck, Bati would crash over for a try from a 5metre tap with several would be tacklers coming off second best as they tried to get lower than the man with the ball. Yoichi Ohira failed to add the extras with the conversion. At the 20 minute mark the Gaijin were up by 5 – 0.
The next several minutes would again be presided over by the over-zealous referee.
In the interest of staying impartial the next comments will be given by a rugby spectator, rather than a TGRFC author.
PENALTY: From the kickoff the referee blows up play for Gaijin forwards coming in on the side of the maul. Nothing of the sort happened. Crusaders kick the ball out for the lineout as is their right.
PENALTY: Ball doesn`t go 5metre in the lineout so the referee awards a penalty to the Gaijin. This is actually a free kick. Gaijin attempt to kick the ball out as is their right.
WHISTLE: The referee decides that under his rules players can take marks from a Penalty.
WHISTLE: Under some sort of repentance promise to the Gaijin he then gives the ball back to them by saying the Crusaders didn`t tap it correctly and that was bad manners.
MORE WHISTLE: The referee blew the whistle more times for play such as diving in at the ruck, not rolling away, not getting back 10metres at a penalty, and liking Banana rather than Blueberry muffins.
Author picks up his notebook and pen from the ground after hissy fit.
The half ended with a set of scrums and the feed changing several times. After good pressure from the Gaijin players on the clearing kicker, the Crusaders standoff was adjudged to be behind his dead-ball line when he tried to clear.
The last phase of play of the half ended with the referee blowing for something that to this day no one knows.
All things considered for the first half of rugby after a long summer break, the Gaijin looked to be in a good position. Hot conditions for playing rugby were sure to take their toll on both teams in the second half. Forward dominance was sure to be of key importance for both teams, as no one wanted to be back- pedaling at the break down.
Changes made were Ken Kondo for Hitoshi Chihara and Lawrence Hii for Jo Iwasaki. Also there was a comical moment with Mauro Sauco taking a place on the sideline without the new replacement taking the field, and in a fit of panic Sauco entering the playing arena again.. With refreshments on board, and both teams turned around the game restarted.
From the kick the Crusaders tried to build a platform from which to break out from their half, but knocked it on in the process. The ensuing scrum saw number 8 Joe Fisher peel off the back only to knock it on. A penalty was awarded and Takayuki Kitajima made good ground from a tap only for the following ruck to be over-policed and another penalty awarded for the Cru to relieve pressure.
At this point about 5 minutes into the half several more changes were made and the new man finally got on forsauco. Other changes were Captain Al Nimmo coming off for the new halfback recruit. Nimmo was still a little ginger courtesy of an earlier dumping in the match that left him a little twisted and flat on his back. Dave `the Muff` Huffman also went on for Chris Fearon.
The hands began to disappoint out wide and after dropping the ball there was a string of penalties for what might have been offside or hands in the ruck. With no real hand signals from the referee and his indiscriminate policing of rugby laws it was becoming hard to follow the game.
With the Crusaders on their own tryline and defending vigorously they manage to steal the ball at the ruck and clear the ball for a lineout.
The stop/start play was affecting the flow of the game, but was offering the much-needed short stoppages to players to regain breath. The Gaijin looked to be doing better with a fresher set of forwards, courtesy of some hard training before the Shuto league campaign.
With Huffman penalised following a maul and some foolish play dragging out a player and throwing him to the ground in front of the referee, there was one fairly awarded legitimate penalty. Mr Harris cursed him (you big dumb f*#k). All is well after summer.
More penalties from a maul in midfield ensued. Joe Fisher, the ‘most honest man on a rugby field’, was penalised for going down in the maul. Only thing was, everyone was still standing! Yet another erroneous call from the referee!
It was to be time for another drinks break at the 15minute mark of the half. Lonnie Childress was replaced at this point after making the most of his debut match for the Gaijin.
This small refreshment break proved to be a decisive one for the Gaijin team.
From the next piece of play all present were fortunate to witness a beautiful piece of back-line play that saw a 60 metre sweeping play up-field capped off with Yoichi Ohira scoring close to the posts and converting his own try. Bati was the original man to make the break after beating his man and muscling it upfield. At about the 35metre mark he slipped a nice pass to Jo Iwasaki who, with sleight of hand, sliced two players in half to put a surging Ohira straight through and with a clear line in front Ohira outpaced the cover defence and scored under the sticks. This proved to be a decisive point in the game and at 12 – 0 the Crusaders realized for the first time they were staring into the eyes of defeat.
After ‘gutsing’ out a few more phases Bati was changed in the three quarters for the rangy Sean O`Donoghue to take a place in the backs. While out of position, his presence in midfield with the hard-hitting Niall Conlon would shore up the midfield. Not to say that Bati is ever absent from his duties, but he had gone searching for the ball all day and was looking very tired when finally dragged at this point.
The pack had worked well all game and a well-tuned scrum was the punctuation mark on their superb effort on this day. At no stage did they shirk their duties, and with the game entering the final stages they were going from strength to strength and rubbing salt into the wounds of a tired Crusaders pack. Joffa Harris made way for replacement for Paolo de Berriozabal at this point to add a little `Basque sparkle` to this melting pot of cultures.
With the Crusaders attempting to start something in the back-line they attempted a midfield move, only it was the wrong option with a fresh O`Donoghue eyeing his man. That man also caught a glimpse of O`Donoghue and ended up dropping the ball quickly and taking evasive action.
The following 10 minutes of the game would lose their shape completely. Whilst one memorable moment was Erin Hughes going on in the place of Dave Huffman, nothing else of importance took place. There were a huge number of knock-ons and penalties. The game had lost its shape as both teams became increasingly tired in the hot conditions after a long summer break.
The ability of the Tokyo Gaijin to gather a large squad of players together for the first hit out of the season, and the hard work done in the few weeks building up to the season kick off was a key point in the success of the team on this day.
With the final whistle blown and a hard-worked 12-0 victory under the belts players and supporters would be equally looking forward to a post match beer and the promise of a game against last seasons winner of the Shuto League - Tentoumushi.
SCORE: TGRFC: 12 (A. Bati 1, Y Ohira 1, Ohira 1/2 goals). CRUSADERS: 0.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Given to the tight five for a superb display. The Crusaders scrum was on roller-skates for most of the second half.
1. Chris Fearon (NZ)
2. Takashi Narita (Japan)
3. Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)
4. Mauro Sauco (Argentina)
5. Murray Clarke (NZ)
6. Dave Kelver (USA)
7. Joffa Harris (Australia)
8. Joe Fisher (NZ)
9. Alaister Nimmo (England)
10. Yoichi Ohira (Japan)
11. Lonnie Childress (USA)
12. Niall Conlon (Britain)
13. Apisai Bati (Fiji)
14. Lawrence Hii (Australia)
15. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
16. David Huffman (Canada)
17. Sean O`Donoghue (Ireland)
18. Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)
19. Tyler Rumsey (USA)
20. Erin Hughes (USA)
21. Jo Iwasaki (Japan)
22. Ken Kondo (Japan)
23. Yoshihiro Sato (Japan)