Yanokuchi mumblings  Vol: 9/21

On the 21st of September a good squad was summoned to Yanokuchi Field, near the Tamagawa riverside of west Tokyo, to play out the second Shuto League game of the season against Fuji Club, a team that are quickly gaining status as a valued club to base our seasons performances on. The previous match had seen the Gaijin go down; so many were keen to exact revenge.

A good squad meant that we could play the game at an increased tempo, and team regulars could take some time out so that more youthful (or ‘greener’) members could get some valuable playing time. Regular captain Murray Clarke was sidelined for the day at his kids` sports festival so captaincy for this match would be handed to regular vice, Matt Downer. Will Thompson’s status would be elevated to forwards leader and vice captain, and this proved to be too much for the man to handle as he succumbed to a dubious neck strain early in the match and was taken away by ambulance so that he could meet some local nurses.

Our ability to make untrue comments about Will is supported by the fact that Will is doing fine and is expected to make a full recovery! The doctors did some scans on his skull and were a bit surprised to find it empty. Other than that, he has some ligament damage to his neck which will be painful for a while but not life-threatening.

The game kicked off at 2:00pm in slightly wet conditions with a large patch of gravel at the western end that the gaijin would be playing towards in the first half.

Yanokuchi was in surprisingly good condition given that weeks earlier it had been flooded by one of the summer typhoons.

The first half was a patchy performance and although on many occasions the team looked like gelling, momentum would be lost due to the small errors that generally sneak in to TGRFC performances. There were many good touches by individual players but few moments stood out in the first half. A good try fell to Rob Poulton with a forward drive close to the line after a succession of penalties, with Erin Hughes providing excellent assistance after binding beautifully around Rob's waist. No way you are going to stop those two lumps from 10 metres out! With the try converted and a penalty added soon after by Matt Downer the Gaijin would go into the break at 10 – 0 in front.

It was a first half that promised to break open on a number of occasions but could not quite live up to itself. Some delicate touches from the new centre pairing of Joe Nawaqavanua and Rory Brown    created excitement over what may eventuate in the weeks to come when they get comfortable with each other’s play. Other positives were inexperienced winger Lawrence Hii, chasing down kicks and doing very good set up work at the break down until his forwards got there despite a lot of pressure being on him.

The first half also held the 'Goat of the match' moment. Erin Hughes playing strategically out of position behind the pack and in the channel that he is constantly told to stay out of – in a supportive role – had the ball passed to him from a defensive maul 5 metres out from his own line. In a state of panic he decided not to hit it up and set up another phase, but to look for the sideline. In a comical moment he sunk his boot into it only to realize standing on one leg and swinging the other is actually quite difficult. The ball careened sideways lucky not to take a players head off and came down near his teams goal posts and put us under further pressure. Luckily one of his teammates in the back line managed to secure the ball and set up another ruck until a real kicker could clear. Erin decided that in order to rid that forgettable moment, he would lie in front of someone’s knees in a ruck so as to erase the memory. Not long later, after taking a kickoff, he was quite successful. He was smashed as he caught it and knocked down under a weight of defenders and left contorted at the bottom of the pile. He was replaced before halftime – one of three locks to be replaced in the first half.

Besides Erin’s 'moment', the forwards (Erin included) were looking to link quickly so that the backs could be provided with some good go forward ball from the breakdown. This saw some big yards being gained straight up the middle by all the starting forwards.

When the whistle blew for the second half you could have sworn that the players had taken some ‘Boring’ medicine. It was a game that failed to reach any heights for about 20 minutes of the second half. There were brief periods of interesting play, but the second half was marred by a number of over-zealous whistle blows that broke up the flow of the game. It did not break up the intensity of the hits though with some big tackles taking their toll on the tiring Fuji team. Although they looked well in the game at 10 – 0 they had been on the back foot for most of the game.

Tireless toil from the forwards was a big part in the eventual run over in the last 20 minutes. The TGRFC had scrummed the Fuji club into submission, and turned over a lot of ball at set pieces and at the breakdown. This was especially positive as a couple of natural leaders were missing from the team. The forwards stuck to their task throughout and in the end were too strong and accurate for Fuji, with superior scrummaging and tackling. With the new ELV's in place the Gaijin showed that staying on your feet in the rucks would show dividends in field position and in the penalty count.

The last 20 minutes saw the floodgates open and 5 more tries would see the eventual score line blown out to 45 – 0.

The players to take the tries were Gaz Dalrymple, Lonnie Childress and Joe Nawaqavanua with a treble. All of the tries were long-range efforts started from at least 40 metres out and containing a number of swish movements involving forward and backs. Joe Nawaqavanua broke quite a few tackles in the second half and showed surprising pace for a big man.

Our latest 'Big Joe' storming through the defense to slide under the posts was great to watch as was the effort that saw Lonnie Childress dot down. He swooped on opposition ball and set up the maul that saw the Gaijin break downfield. After several phases he was the one on hand to pick the ball up at the back of the ruck to cross the line for his first 5 points for the Gaijin. It was a fair reward for his earlier good work. With Gaz and Big Joe also picking up their first tries for the Gaijin, all looks well for the near future.

Honorable mentions must also go to some new Japanese blood in the team. Ryuta Onoue, who played at wing and center, and Takeshi Ochiai at lock, also had particularly good games. Ryuta showed tremendous speed on several kick and chase occasions as well as a good eye on defense and the sort of hard tackling we have come to expect from our home players. Takeshi upset the whole back line by showing them how to throw a dummy, and in doing so also displayed he has a sidestep.  His good work in the tight, and ability to get up in the lineout means that we have a few options there given our recent difficulties.

Big Joe Nawaqavanua was devastating, earning him Fuji Club's Man of the Match award. He had a quiet first half but then opened up in the second half and caused the Fuji Club backs countless headaches with his strong running style. They’ll be having nightmares of the big Fijian running at them. Congratulations and may this be the start of good things. Senior players and by-standers on the Gaijin side, deciding that it had been a ‘forwards’ game, awarded the teams` Man of the Match award to Dave Kelver, who finished the game with a black eye. Flanker Kelver had led the forwards to the breakdowns and rucks all day and had pulled off some big tackles. Matt Downer had also been a steadying link between the backs and the forwards all day and his kicking game was superb.

As always thanks to all helpers for assisting with the game. Special mentions go to the players and supporters who helped set up the ground on the day, Jesse as always for everything he does (seen and unseen) and especially for taking care of our resident goon Will Thompson at the hospital.

It was Rory Brown, Joe Nawaqavanua and Ryuta Onoue`s first game of 15`s for the Gaijin. We also had a ‘guest’ appearance from Alexis Ottenwaelter, on a 2-week visit from France. As always at the Tokyo Gaijin RFC, ‘new’ people come but ‘old’ people leave. Sadly, it was Lawrence Hii`s last game for the club. The squad will enjoy a BBQ and farewell for Lawrence next weekend after training at TGRFC hotspot, Futako Shinchi.

TGRFC: 45 (Joe Nawaqavanua 3, Rob Poulton 1, Gaz Dalyrmple 1, Lonnie Childress 1 tries, Matt Downer 6/6 goals, 1/2 penalties) FUJI CLUB: 0

Man of the Match: Dave Kelver

Goat of the Game: Erin Hughes

1. Rob Poulton (England)

2. So Nagashima (Japan)

3. Chris Lucas (Australia)

4. Will Thompson (Australia)

5. Erin Hughes (USA)

6. Dave Kelver (USA)

7. Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)

8. Joffa Harris (Australia)

9. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)

10. Matt Downer (c) (NZ)

11. Lawrence Hii (Australia)

12. Rory Brown (South Africa)

13. Joe Nawaqavanua (Fiji)

14. Ryuta Onoue (Japan)

15. Jo Iwasaki (Japan)


16. Galwyn 'Gaz' Dalrymple (Scotland)

17. Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)

18. Dan Salter (England)

19. Kevin Rebay (France)

20. Takeshi Ochiai (Japan)

21. Alexis Ottenwaelter (France)

22. Lonnie Childress (USA)

23. Yoshihiro Sato (Japan)

24. Andy Ballard (England)