Sunday March 9 saw the TGRFC squad head to the National Japan Rugby team’s training quarters in Tatsumi for an anniversary game to celebrate 10 years of Deaf Rugby in Japan. Normally the Tatsumi ground is off limits to anyone for matches, but the Deaf Rugby crew had scored a win and gained access to the hard dry turf that made for a great running rugby spectacle.
Early in the morning I admit that I was expecting a much tougher match. Upon hearing from Jesse Cutler that the All Quiet Typhoon had beaten the Gaijin a few seasons earlier, I expected this national representative side to be a very tough opponent. Basically none of us knew what to expect but what came was a game that lived up to the opposition name as it was quite literally a typhoon of rugby that ran both teams hard, across, up and down the pitch for a highly enjoyable game. A fair-sized crowd had come to watch and they were not disappointed. Sky Perfect TV even had a camera crew there, as they were filming a documentary on our opposition, so the Gaijin mandate was to go out and have fun on a perfect sunny afternoon for Ruggers.

The Tokyo Gaijin won the toss and went with the wind hoping to put some points on early and stamp out the home side’s bravado. Actually the wind was picking up so this looked like a bit of a foolhardy decision prior to the kick off. However, the Typhoon fly half dropkicked the game into gear and immediately the Gaijin were on the front foot. Murray Clarke took the ball in, a ruck ensued and the ball was rapidly sent out to the backs courtesy of Hitoshi Chihara who was filling in at halfback. The ball flew accurately from Hitoshi to Matt Downer and on to Bati Apisai who exploded into a gap and turned the opposition around with a blasting run all the way down the left flank, weaving his magic in and out of defenders with support from Andy Ballard (wing) and Riki Pitter (center). They were surplus to requirements and our 2007 MVP and recently voted “Shuto League MVP” ran in under the posts for the first try within a minute. The Fijian Flyer had laid down the gauntlet and the Gaijin were up by 7. How good is this guy?

The second Gaijin try was not well remembered by the several players consulted however what we do know was that it was again Bati Apisai who turned on the gas to score it. The Gaijin forwards, led by drives from the likes of big Dan Salter and Gazza Dalrymple with linking by Dave Kelver, helped the backs work their way into opposition territory soon after the restart. A knock on by the Typhoon in their half resulted in a burst from the backline that brought in another 5 pointer – unconverted, as the try came wide out near the corner. It was clearly so fast that no one can remember the detail. That being said, the next try was well remembered by all.

The third Gaijin try started from well inside the Gaijin half. After facing sustained pressure from the Typhoon who used a wide array of attacks to catch our defense off-guard, the Gaijin drove forward on a charge by new comer Texan prop “Scoob” who set Hitoshi Chihara and the backline off on another wild run through scrambling defense that somehow managed to commit numbers until the final meters. Hitoshi – as always in support – ran the ball a long distance and swerved across field toward his teammates. The ball in my memory then swung quickly through the hands of Matt Downer to Riki Pitter who ran fast, drew defense and flipped the ball to Bati who did the same, giving the ball to Lonnie Childress. Lonnie then streaked up the right flank, whipped the ball back inside to Riki Pitter who gained solid ground passing back to Matt Downer as the line drew near. Matt was taken in a tackle and then passed to Clarke who got a pass away to none other than Bati Apisai raging up the middle of the field. Bati had his “hat-trick” of tries to give the Gaijin the start they were looking for. That had to be one of the best tries of the season as it showed that the Gaijin have a running game and the support play to match any team we will face this year. Matthew Downer scored on the conversion and we were up with a 19-nil advantage. Things looked good.

Then the Typhoon came back. The All Quiet Typhoon played hard and played a clean game, being rewarded for getting superior numbers to the breakdown. The Gaijin were forced into penalties for killing the ball and the big Typhoon Number 8 was able to tap and drive forward toward the line. He was taken out but his support drove the maul ever closer. Again a penalty came and he tapped to drive over the line for a 7-point conversion. It had to be said the referee was somewhat lenient to the home side as he ignored a clear knock on, though the Gaijin were too busy protesting and not playing to the whistle, hence allowing the quicker Typhoon to score. Basic errors cost points. 19-7.

The Typhoon were again next to score and it was from typical running play. Their half back and captain would direct the move as quickly as possible wide, extending the Gaijin defense. This ploy is the standard tactic used by teams over the years – especially come Tokyo Cup time – as they look to stretch the larger Gaijin and tire them by using the full width of the paddock. It was not a ploy that worked early on today as the mid-field defense was extremely solid, frenzied you could say. Of note, I personally thought Jo Iwasaki at full-back was worthy of praise through his first half, with his great reading of play and his ability to save the day as the last line of defense. His tackling was accurate and he ran the ball up well, kicking and gaining considerable ground when appropriate. Leading to this Typhoon try however after a series of scrums (buoyed by a solid Rob Poulton and “Scoob” at prop) where the Gaijin wheeled the attackers and won the feed only to turn the ball over again and gift another chance, the Typhoon made the most of it and ran a try in out on the left wing. They had attacked time and again and finally found the overlap. It was a fair try and well deserved considering the time they had spent in our territory. Half-time, 19-14, Gaijin advantage.

Throughout the first half it was fair to say that the Gaijin forwards were playing their part but they were clearly second fiddle to a rampaging backline that from 9 to 15 had a burning hunger for the ball and generally held a solid flat line in defense, not wilting to the varied running and kicking attack coming their way. As previously mentioned, the full-back was also covering well. The forwards had solid set pieces at lineout and scrum and a number of the crew made some solid runs in the first half but the telling images of that portion of the game were of speedy “pretty boys” ripping through the Typhoon defense. Playing on grounds as nice as the Cherry Blossom’s training turf was indeed making a difference and you wonder how our boys would do on grass as fine as Chichibunomiya (which by the way, is on the cards next year… more on that later).

The second half started with the wind in the Typhoon’s favour. The Gaijin were only up by 5 points and the opening moments of the half involved tactical kicking with both sides trading volleys. The Gaijin had a few chances but were let down by simple handling errors. With the wind the Gaijin were starting to get pinned down in their half more than they wanted. Good work rates by the loose forwards, Dave Kelver, Toru Kanemori and Gazza were keeping us in possession but we could not get into Typhoon territory. The telling blow came though when a Gaijin lineout was taken cleanly for a drive at the half way mark. Murray Clarke took a perfectly weighted throw in from Hooker Toru and Will Thompson (who, in a highly hung-over state had played a mixed bag until that point) drove the pack forward. Will kept the ball in hand for a good 20 meters before the maul came to a halt. The ball was then whipped from Hitoshi to Matt and on to the Flying Fijian Bati who, with his strong fend and quick acceleration, left several Typhoon players sprawling in his wake. Bati offloaded to Riki Pitter running into space and finding Tucker McEwen outside him. Tucker, who is a naturally gifted runner, stepped and bashed his way forward, finally off-loading to Andy Ballard who went over in the corner for what was almost, but not quite, a try to rival the quality of the “team try” in the first half.

Both Riki and Tucker were having storming games, as was Andy Ballard; whose presence grew as the second half wore on. The author went off with 10-15 minutes to go and watched from the sideline as Andy took two restarts and ran hard through the defense. He tackled well, positioned himself well and chipped accurately; in effect he was dangerous every time he had the ball in hand. This was in my mind (and in the mind of several other senior lads) Andy’s finest game in the Gaijin jersey. Hungry for the ball he went in search of work: the very spirit that every 1 of the match day 22 should have. Unfortunately the conversion was missed and the score sat at 24-14 in favour of the Gaijin.

The Typhoon were not to be outdone. They reacted with passion and pushed the Gaijin back with some nice running and good handling. A brilliant cover tackle by Tucker McEwen kept them out once but a perfectly weighted kick from their first five saw the winger take the bounce for a touch-down deep in goal, right on the left hand touch line. 24-19. Game on!

Though the score was tight, admittedly I think the Gaijin all knew that we were the dominant side and it was only a matter of time for us to take control. A number of reserves had come on and despite a slight lull in momentum they obviously had impact as the game really changed pace and direction soon after that well executed Typhoon try. Erin Hughues, Sean O’Donoghue and Sou Nagashima came in for the forwards and immediately acquitted their selves well, Erin getting his hands on the ball a little more than typical and Sou his usual active self. Sean was of course as busy as ever, especially with ball in hand as his game suits loose play so well. Again from the backs though, it was Tucker McEwen – one of the key impact players – who was the next to make his mark. A nicely weighted chip from Matt Downer saw Tucker snatch the ball and burst through the tackle to go over from 15 meters out. Downer was successful with the conversion.  31-19.  Momentum had swung our way for good.

Not long after Tucker again put his hand up and in the same left hand side of the field, he practically willed himself over for another superb try. Nice handling by the Gaijin forwards – a hard-nosed ”Scoob” run and a trade mark 20m+ bust up the middle by Sean O’Donoghue – and good combination with the backs saw the ball switch back to left field for the set up and Tucker refused to go down in the tackle, driving his way over to take the score to 38-19. Bati Apisai made the conversion good.

It was clear the wind had been knocked out of the All Quiet Typhoon by this stage and Riki Pitter went over not long after Tucker’s double through yet another great team try. The ball went through many hands and the forwards settled play mid-field for a final attack at the line. Gathering an untidy pass, Riki scooped up the bounce and ran through the gap to take the score to 43-19 on the missed conversion.

The last score for a dominant Tokyo Gaijin was also a well-rounded “backs” try. From broken play again the ball was shipped quickly through the line and into an overlap where Apisai Bati handed unselfishly to Matthew Downer for the try. It was wide out and there was to be no conversion: Bati drop kicked for the conversion and made such a hash of it that the ball came to a halt further from the posts than from where it began. From that the final whistle soon sounded to cap a very enjoyable match.

A bit of confusion in terms of the scoring as Jesse said the Ref had it at 43-19, Lonnie had 42-19, though with the try count most lads had it at 48-19, which sounds better and is what we’ll go with as our “official” reckoning. 8 well run tries to the Gaijin and 4 conversions (3/5 to Matt and 1/3 to Bati).

This was an extremely enjoyable day out. Great weather, great hosts and a grand occasion to mark the 10th Anniversary of the ”All Quiet Typhoon”. The Gaijin were treated to a party in the clubrooms and were overwhelmed by the passion of the All Japan Deaf Rugby Team. They are huge fans of the game, playing with so much gusto that the match made for a great spectacle. At the post-game function they were clearly elated to have the chance to have celebrations with a “foreign” club (as we were in fact a replacement for the All Wales Deaf Rugby Team, who could not make the trip). Sky Perfect TV were on hand to capture the game on video for their documentary on the All Quiet Typhoon and the Tokyo Gaijin promised them to make this an annual event. Sounds cheesy but it really was a great day for rugby in Japan.

Player of the Day for TGRFC was given to the entire backline who showed so much skill in their running, quick passing, handling and vision. The forwards did not live up to their billing although their saving grace was the fact that they managed set pieces well enough and did deliver quick ball to Hitoshi for most of the day. Note, I never say such things about backs but it was genuinely a great day for the glamour boys. The All Quiet Typhoon deservedly selected Apisai Bati as their MVP, which was in line with scoring and overall impact. Other people of mention were Hitoshi Chihara, who filled in superbly at half back, showing his passion for attacking rugby yet again, and Andy Ballard who turned it on for a huge game out on the wing (as said, possibly his best all-round game at TGRFC). Riki (creative at 13 and at 15), Tucker, Jo, Matt, Lawrence and Lonnie all played well and showed just how much depth this team has. Off the bench Sean O’Donoghue and Tucker both made a huge impact on maintaining our momentum through the second half.

A big thanks to supporters who came and watched. I am pleased we could put on a bit of a show. Special thanks to Shino Iwasaki who is more and more obviously going to have a baby soon but won’t let that get in the way of supporting husband Jo, and the TGRFC as she has done for a good 7 years.

Note: I received a mail from Sugiyama-san at J-Sky Sports and also a mail from Shibatani-san of the Typhoon to say that we will receive a copy of the match DVD and also advanced warning of the documentary airing on J-Sky Sports.

All Quiet Typhoon RFC Blog: http://hochoker.blog.ocn.ne.jp/susu/ (this includes some photos of the game)

Man of the Match: Backs
Goat of the Match: Bati (for that kick)
Final Score: TGRFC 48 (Bati 3 tries and 1 conv., McEwen 2 tries, Pitter try, Ballard try, Downer try and 3 conv.), All Quiet Typhoon 19 (3 tries, 2 conversions)

Match 22:
1.Rob Poulton (England)
2.Toru Kanamori (Nippon)
3.Scoob (Oil Country)
4.Murray Clarke (c) (NZ)
5.Will Thompson (Australia)
6.Garren Dalrymple (Scotland)
7.Dave Kelver (USA)
8.Dan Salter (England)
9.Hitoshi Chihara (Nippon)
10.Matt ‘need to practice my kicking’ Downer (NZ)
11.Andy Ballard (England)
12.Apisai Bati (Fiji)
13.Riki Pitter (South Africa/England)
14.Lonnie Childress (USA)
15.Jo Iwasaki (Nippon)

Reserves: Tucker McEwen (USA), Lawrence Hi (Australia), Sou Nagashima (Nippon), Sean O’Donoghue (Ireland), Erin Hughes (USA), Asa-san (Nippon).