Just one week after the final match of a long and intense Tokyo Cup campaign the Gaijin found themselves participating in the opening event of the Shuto League, a 10’s tournament held in Urayasu city (Chiba prefecture).
As the match statistics show, the Gaijin played very well in the pool stages of the tournament, winning all five matches and finishing up with an impressive for and against tally of 61 points to 7.
The stand-out player for the Gaijin during the pool stages was ‘Big’ Joe Nawoqavanua with four tries from five matches. Joe joined the Gaijin too late to be registered for this year’s Tokyo Cup unfortunately so this tournament was his first proper outing for the team and he certainly made it a day to remember. In fact, Big Joe made an impact even before he even took the field by leading the team in a pre-match prayer session, during which he quoted the words of Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me".
Aside from Big Joe, ‘Tatami’ Matt Downer stood out for the Gaijin during the pool stages. Tatami Matt, filling in as skipper for the day, ran things well from fly-half and although his drop-kicking radar was slightly off (4 conversions from 13 attempts throughout the day) he more than made up for the lack of points from the boot by grabbing three tries in the first five matches. Points-scorers aside, the quiet achievers of the pool stages was the front row of Chris Lucas, Chris ‘Feral’ Fearon, and ‘Slow’ Joe Fisher. By putting a big push on every time the opposition was awarded a scrum, the Gaijin front row ensured that the opposition were only getting poor quality ball.
As a general comment on the pool stages, the teamwork was excellent. Each player was looking to link with their team-mates on attack and move up in one line on defence. The results of such teamwork were clearly reflected in the for and against tally mentioned above.
In terms of specific incidents, there were a few moments worthy of special mention from the pool stages:
* Feral Fearon marking his one year anniversary with the team by delivering the mother of all fends onto an unsuspecting opponent shortly after kick-off in the first match.
* Tatami Matt adding insult to injury in the victory over Fuji Club, winners of this tournament last year, by directing one of his conversion attempts directly into the face of an on-rushing Fuji player. The kick had enough force to knock to the ground and daze the unfortunate opponent.
* Will Thompson being rewarded for his tireless work around the field with a try against OK Pipetsu.
* Chris Lucas marking his return to the Gaijin with a try against the Zenkai Beers.
* TJ getting on the field for his first match for the Gaijin.
* Riki Pitter showing Tatami Matt how it’s done by nailing his one (and only) conversion attempt.
Cup Quarter-Final: TGRFC 12 Gentle Giants 5
Tries: Ken Kondo (2)
Conversions: Matt Downer (1)
Cup Semi-Final: TGRFC 7 Blue Lions 12
Tries: Matt Downer
Conversions: Matt Downer (1)r
After a break for lunch the Gaijin started the knock-out stage well with a gutsy win over the always-committed Gentle Giants. As the score sheet shows, Ken Kondo was the star of the quarter-final for the Gaijin. Ken, whose pace could be best described as ‘blinding’, got both of his tries from outsprinting opposition players to regather kicks ahead. For the writer, a prop forward whose pace could be best described as ‘glacial’, watching Ken turn on the afterburners and cruise past his opponents was one of the most satisfying sights of the day.
The only concern to come out of the quarter-final was that the team seemed to be noticeably tiring. Unfortunately, this proved to be the team’s downfall in the semi-finals when the Blue Lions took full advantage of a lethargic Gaijin start to get two early tries on the board. At this point the Gaijin realized their tournament was on the line and dug deep to mount a fight-back. However, with each match only being 7 minutes long it was always going to be a big ask to try to come back from two tries down and the Blue Lions did a very good job of slowing the game down once they got in the lead. The Gaijin did manage a try but in the end the referee’s whistle came too soon.
As the score sheets show, Tatami Matt continued his good form into the knock-out stages and finished up as the team’s top points-scorer with an impressive haul of 28 points (4 tries, 4 conversions) from 7 matches. Away from the try-scorers, Al Nimmo (half-back) and Dave Kelver (second row) perhaps deserve special mention for toiling away all day on both attack and defence. Off the field, Jesse Takahashi ensured everything ran smoothly and looks set to continue his run as the wonder-boy of Tokyo amateur rugby administration.
Ultimately, this tournament must go down as a disappointment. The team felt that it was there for the taking and that we let it slip. For the writer though, this disappointment is not without its positive side. To feel disappointed after winning 6 matches out of 7 and finishing with a for and against tally of 82 to 24 shows a real desire for success on behalf of the players. If this desire can be channeled into improving the things that let us down (fitness, composure under pressure) then the success that the Gaijin desire will surely follow: “Whatever you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon, must inevitably come to pass.”
Game 1: TGRFC 17 Tentomushi 7
Tries: Joe Nawoqavanua (2), Matt Downer
Conversions: Matt Downer (1)
Game 2: TGRFC 10 Fuji Club 0
Tries: Matt Downer, Joe Nawoqavanua
Game 3: TGRFC 5 Mokossu 0
Tries: Joe Nawoqavanua
Game 4: TGRFC 12 OK Pipetsu 0
Tries: Will Thompson, Matt Downer
Conversions: Matt Downer (1)
Game 5: TGRFC 17 Zenkai Beers 0
Tries: Chris Lucas, Ken Kondo, Riki Pitter
Coversions: Riki Pitter (1)
Andy Ballard (England)
Gaz Dalrymple (Scotland)
Matt Downer (New Zealand - Captain)
Chris Fearon (New Zealand)
Joe Fisher (New Zealand)
Joffa Harris (Australia)
Erin Hughes (USA)
Toru Kanamori (Japan)
Dave Kelver (USA)
Ken Kondo (Japan)
Chris Lucas (Australia)
Sou Nagashima (Japan)
Joe Nawoqavanua (Fiji)
Al Nimmo (Japan / England)
Riki Pitter (France / England)
Jesse Takahashi (Japan / USA - Manager)
Will Thompson (Australia)