The first match for the Tokyo Gaijins Shuto Leage season came to pass this past weekend and in many ways it went exactly as expected. The week leading up to the match showed that people were excited and eager to get back on the pitch and prove that the Gaijin were the team to beat. Emails were flying about who would start, who deserved what and who had been training and who was truly ready to play. A lot of talk had been made - especially by the Captain - about the potential effects of the ELV's and how they may change the tactics of our play. In particular, the added emphasis on fitness was a focal point. The forecast was hot and humid with a 35% chance of showers. All proved to be correct as weather had been stormy with a lot of thunder and lightening through the latter half of summer. As the Gaijin warmed up on a scorching and humid (post-rain) day, the need for water during warm-up breaks showed how the humidity would play early on. From the start of the match the Gaijin seemed to not be able to find their pace. While there was no lack of desire to get hands on the ball and make plays on the field. Plays were some what disjointed and there was not really a sense that things were firing on all cylinders. Captain Murray Clarke did his best to raise the alarm, and get the Gaijin to pick up the intensity.
The first 20 minutes saw a see saw of back and forth movements between both teams near mid field. Till final ly the Beers put one past the Gaijin try line with a chip and chase up the left wing. The kick was not converted.
First game of the year and the Gaijin were already down 5-zip. This did not sit well with the team but there remained a confidence that it was only a matter of time before we would take control. However, that wasn’t to happen before the Beers were able to score again from a turnover and breakaway from around halfway and stretch their lead to 10-0. Gaijin speedster and fitness expert Andy Ballard seemed to have his opposite in check but as Andy admitted after the game “he just ran away from me!” It wasn’t quite panic stations but things were getting pretty dire. The Gaijin clearly had the edge in terms of skill and forward momentum but on the scoreboard (where it counts) we were 10 points down.
The intensity needed to be lifted and it was the Basque terrier Paulo Berriozabal who was to lead the charge. From a series of pick and gos that saw most of the forwards get their hands on the ball, Paulo rounded off the great work by the pack by dotting down fairly wide out. The kick was not converted. Other action worth note during the first half was the work of Mr. Rob Paulton. On one occasion he charged at pace toward the defense (with support on both sides) only to spill the ball forward in a comic display (in the tackle of a rather small fullback); on another he made good ground, smashing through tackles but fumbled the offload, while the pinnacle of his comedy was a tap penalty where he charged at the try line only to be gang tackled and see the ball spill not just forward, but ejected 20 meters or more over the deadball line. Nice one. Despite the error count, with about 10 minutes remaining in the first half, the Gaijin were knocking at the gates again and Paulo scored another fantastic try from about 2 meters out. The forwards were starting to hum nicely with their pick and go game, done at speed with quick ball retention so the defense could not prepare. The kick was this time converted by Downer from a difficult angle and Gaijin were up for the first time in the game (and season!) 12-10. When the half time whistle blew Captain Murray Clarke made it clear that in order to put this one away early the Gaijin needed to do one thing. Score a try in the opening minutes and cement the good work that had been done toward the end of the first half. This was after all, our first 15-a-side run in over 3 months so rustiness was excusable - though losing was not. Your humble author looked out on the horizon and thought the formation of clouds that were fast approaching looked ominous. Then with about 10 minutes into the second half the heavens opened up and it was a down pore. The rain sent women and children fleeing for cover while the game marched on. Bags and kit were soaked. The rain and gale picked up in ferocity, the Gaijin attacked the Beers line but were repeatedly repelled or let down by handling at close quarters. The scrum was now dominating but the finishing was still not there. Sets of pick and goes that were then turned out to the backs. But the battle raged on in the storm with the Gaijin winning territory thanks to a gale force wind that kept the Beers trapped. Yet, still the Gaijin could not handle the slippery ball for long enough to dot down. The storm was extremely intense and day light had turned to a darkness. A lighting strike near the pitch about 15 minutes in brought the referee to call the game off, erring toward safety. A few years back a school kid was killed by lightening at a soccer match outside Tokyo and across the board this is a safety rule applied to all sports. Another kid was paralysed just two years back, so fair enough we thought (once we had calmed down). Everyone hurried to get themselves and their gear out of the rain under a nearby overpass till the rain dissipated. As the rain halted and the Gaijin made their way to a local combini for post match beers and man/goat of the match. Final Score: 12-10 (de Berriozabal 2 tries, Downer 1/2 conversions) Man of the Match: Paulo de Berriozabal Goat of the Match: Rob Poulton