The start to the game was far from ideal. As the author of this article, I must admit I was one of the several players who turned up late to the Hitotsubashi University ground (somewhere in Kunitachi, which I mistakenly assumed was somewhere near the Kunitachi motorway junction, and proceeded to get horribly lost). What a nightmare start! As I arrived (15 minutes before kickoff), most of the forward pack was still trying to pull out their metal studs and replace them with plastic ones to satisfy the local officials and ground staff of the artificial grass field. Obviously some guys rarely change their studs as some had stripped the screw-in part and some guys had completely snapped off the stud (due to rust?). Why didn’t they do it the day before? Good question? Apparently quite a few were relying on Gaz Dalrymple to bring a bunch of studs from the sport shop near his house. It was all a bit of a panic but we were told that they were very strict about this. (Editors note: As it turned out, the referee never checked the studs and a few of the opposition players had metal studs – it seemed to be a complete waste of time!). While this was going on, the backs were out playing touch footy and no one was even close to being switched on for a game of rugby.
Alas, the referee called the teams in with the Gaijin well under-cooked. Some guys hadn’t warmed up at all. With only 3 men on the bench the Gaijin were in for a long day as at least 3 of the team were sick with the 'flu, several had ongoing injuries and more than 1 was out of shape, despite the mid-season stage of the year, and several suffered from all these ailments (and more).
The game got started though with the ball kicked off under a mostly blue sky with not a hint of breeze. The opposition fly-half started by drop kicking the ball perfectly over the 10 meter for his flankers to rush up and give the Gaijin a fright. The ball was secured though and the Gaijin kicked out of their half through their own fly-half, Yoichi Ohira. It did not take long however for the Gaijin to learn that this Hitostsubashi Old Boys team (the Blue Lions) was a well-drilled side who, when allowed to play with space, could be very dangerous. They made a telling break early through their fly-half and inside center, running the ball up the left to set up a quick ruck, then swung the ball wide to the right, while the TGRFC defense lagged back and gave them space, to run in a try on the Gaijins’ right flank. The Blue Lions looked handy but the Gaijin felt it was their lack of preparation and subsequent lazy defense that let them score more than anything else. They were still in warm-up mode! If the Gaijin were intent on keeping their unbeaten record since the summer they needed to muscle up and stop making ‘air’ tackles. The scoreboard read 7 v 0 after the conversion.
A few minutes later and the Blue Lions were attacking down the right flank once more. They knocked on and the Gaijin won their scrum with the ball spilling loosely for halfback Rory Brown (who otherwise had a superb match) to pass out to his winger, standing all alone. Unfortunately Yoshihiro Sato, who made some telling runs in the first half, was hammered in the tackle and was unable to hold onto the ball. It fell into the arms of a marauding group of Lions who ran the ball in for an easy try. The conversion was missed but with the score at 12-nil after only about 10 minutes it looked like it was going to be a long day, but all senior members of the squad pointed the finger quite rightly at the Gaijin forward pack who lagged off the tackle and gave the opposition too much space around the rucks.
The Gaijin - with the front row interchanging between Chris Lucas, Rob Poulton, and Mike Tokue at prop and Toru Kanamori at hooker - were holding their scrums but not getting enough shove on a well drilled Hitotsubashi OB's unit. They eventually put serious pressure on several of their oppositions’scrums though and even stole the ball at the back on one occasion, but in fairness, the Blue Lions were disrupting the Gaijin scrum also and the ball was not coming as quickly or cleanly as they would have liked. Lineouts were fair but not great as the Blue Lions second jumper attacked Murray Clarke, our jumper, rather than the ball, causing several spillages and going unpenalized. On the Lions’ ball though, toward the end of the second half the Gaijin began to steal some throws cleanly. Dave Kelver jumped well at the front to win some solid ball.
The Gaijin knew they needed to fire up. The strength and tenacity of Kevin Rebay was clearly missing from the forward pack. The call was made to switch Joe Nawaqavanua back to center and bring Rebay back into the forwards. The switch had an immediate effect as the Gaijin forwards began to wake up to their responsibilities and follow Rebay`s lead. Rebay, who has played all positions in the pack except in the front row, had a stormer as he ran so strongly with ball in hand. Rory Brown also began to assert himself on the game from half-back making some telling runs, getting involved at the ruck and very effectively chipping over the defense to gain much needed territory. It was Joe Nawaqavanua however, who started the change in momentum as he ripped the ball free at the maul and sped off through the defense. The Lions fullback was visibly keeping his distance from Joe and let the big Fijian run in under the posts to open the Gaijin tally. The conversion was missed and the score was 12-5 to the Lions.
Quickly the Blue Lions came back at the Gaijin though and proceeded to run a solid try in through their well-heeled backs. The Blue Lions back-line was again getting too much space and being allowed to cut through the ragged TGRFC defensive line. The TGRFC forwards were being over-committed at the rucks and lacked the personnel to assist in a half-decent drift defense when it counted. 17-5 the Blue lions were in front.
With the Hitotsubashi Blue Lions lads hot on attack Blake Walker – back after several years absence - twisted his ankle in a collision and hobbled from the pitch. With only Lonnie "GG" Childress as cover for the backs, the call went out for the young American. The calls continued and there was no reply. Lonnie had chosen that moment to take a sit down in the cubicles and the team was forced to put a temporary forward out on the wing (Yours truly! As my busted nose was really starting to hurt, I needed no further chance to escape the forward work!). Hitotsubashi attacked but were repelled by some solid defense by the inside centers and forwards, eventually turning the ball over and allowing the Gaijin to kick clear. Once on the pitch, Lonnie showed that he had obviously exerted too much physical and mental energy in the cubicles and preceded to knock-on the first 4 high kicks that came his way. Though, to his credit, he had a few nice runs including a magic "air step" maneuver after he regained his confidence.
It was Kevin Rebay who took the next opportunity and helped spark a fight back with his raging, shouting antics. After a stolen lineout at the half way, Rob Poulton lead the forwards on a good solid run, Toru Kanamori acted halfback and fed a driving Rebay. Running in support of the wild Frenchman, I thought I may be needed but he crashed and spun his way through the first set of defenders and then over the full-back to run the ball from 40 meters out under the posts. It was an exposition of sheer strength that was much needed at that point of the match. The Gaijin had closed the gap to 17-12 with the conversion from Apisai Bati.
Once again though, just as they did before, the Blue Lions came roaring back. From a Gaijin failure to collect the ball from the kick off, they ran the ball hard through our frayed defense and after a number of quickly recycled phases, got the ball to their fly-half who out ran the defense to score to the side of the posts. The score ticked over to 24-12 as the half came to a close with the conversion.
The half time chat came down to talk of passion and how much we wanted this one - few of the TGRFC team had really put their hands up to fight this battle. It was a non-Shuto League competition game but the show our forwards were putting on was embarrassing. We showed no guts and a lack of heart, giving the opposition too much space and time to do what they wanted. We noted that the Lions fly-half seemed rattled a few times when the big hits came his way, spilling the ball toward the end of the first half and it was with this intensity that we decided we needed to continue.
And continue the Gaijin did. The second half was a tough encounter with the Gaijin finally standing up for themselves in defense and looking more dangerous in attack. The passion began to flow and several minor altercations began to intimidate our opponents and rally our crew. Some big hits from Bati Apisai with his ball and all tackling and hits from Joe Nawaqavanua clearly had the Lions’ backs rattled, causing key errors at times when they looked dangerous. Great vision from Rory Brown, who chipped behind the defense with strong chasing from Bati, Rebay and Yoichi Ohira, had us applying the pressure but it was again big Joe Nawaqavanua who closed the points differential with another bustling run up the left wing, brushing off defenders at will and running the ball around to get it down under the posts. Fellow Fijian Bati Apisai converted the try. The score now stood at 24-19 with the Gaijin needing a converted try to take the game.
The final 15 minutes were played at a furious pace and with sick, injured and just plain unfit members of Gaijin squad regularly coming in and out of the game; the core group of players did well to maintain the intensity. Clearly the Gaijin were dominating the exchanges through the second half but the Lions were gritty in the tight and always looked dangerous. Yoichi Ohira was kicking the Gaijin out of trouble when the ball came deep into their half and some of his kicks were well placed, piercing the defense or dropping between defenders and some were unbelievably allowed to bounce by the Blue Lions. With concerted chasing and some fortuitous bounces the Gaijin were able to make good territorial gains.
It was a good series of attacks by forwards and backs combined that brought the Gaijin into the Lions 22 meter line to be awarded a scrum. The attack came with Bati chipping and chasing at a startled Lions fullback who fumbled and then toed the ball into the dead ball zone as the stocky Fijian loomed down on him. Another scrum was set 5 meters out and it was Kevin Rebay who drove on at the line, picking the ball up from the flank. He was short of the line and Ohira took a short ball to attempt to get over the try line but he was also pushed back. The ball was turned over in the ruck and was sent quickly to our right as the Lions looked to pass their way out of trouble. It was David Kelver who made a telling play to smash the opposition winger. Big Joe was first to the ruck and all he had to do was pick it up and step over the tackled player just before the opposition support arrived, for the 5 pointer to tie the game at 24 a-piece. Unfortunately Bati was unsuccessful with the long range conversion.
Again the Gaijin received the ball and attacked through strong runs by Joffa Harris, Rory Brown, Bati Apisai and Kevin Rebay. The Gaijin forwards were looking tired but they had a final chance to take the win. Yoichi Ohira kicked deep into the Lions corner and the defense pinned them there. The gaijin were clearly dominating the game at this stage and soon, with the referee calling it the last play of the match, Kevin Rebay chipped and chased only to be denied as the ball went dead. The referee then allowed one final play for our opposition and it was here that our flying Frenchman Rebay managed to knock himself out. He played such hard, in-your-face rugby all day that it strangely felt fitting for him to render himself unconscious with his efforts. The opposition center felt the knock also but it was unfortunately his stray knee that felled the oncoming Rebay.
The game ended a draw and the Gaijin could walk off the pitch knowing that, despite their clumsy efforts at the beginning, they had some gas in the tank to turn on the pressure when it was required. It was a game of two halves. The Blue Lines had clearly outplayed the Gaijin in the first half while the Gaijin had clearly dominated the second half. The Gaijin will go into next week’s game knowing that a good warm-up is essential as they seemed to spend the whole first half of this match warming up.
A good job by the Gaijin front rowers as they had little rest and some strong scrummaging to get through. The forwards had a mixed bag, partly due to illness and injury, and the backs generally looked good. Kevin Rebay once again was the dominant forward on the field. Rory Brown, who had a strong game in his second consecutive match behind the scrum, narrowly pipped him for Man of the Match
award. With regular halfbacks Alaister Nimmo and Hitoshi Chihara out injured Brown seems to have made the position all his own. Joe Nawaqavanua did well to get three tries on the day showing powerful running and good speed. His switch with Kevin Rebay didn’t work. Center seems to be his best position as big Joe struggled with the fitness needed for a scrappy loose forwards` game and Rebay`s power running and strong defense also requires that he be in the forward pack and not out sea-gulling with the backs. Toru Kanamori had a busy day all over the park in the forwards and Apisai Bati ran the ball well in the backs and stole some good ball for the Gaijin with his dominant tackles.
Lonnie Childress was ‘awarded’ the Goat of the Game. Apart from the 4 dropped kicks he wasn’t ready to start the game when the referee blew his whistle (changing studs and still helping others change theirs` with his ample tool kit?) and was also missing (in the cubicles) when a reserve back, of which we only had one, was required.
SCORE: TGRFC 24 (Joe Nawaqavanua 3, Kevin Rebay 1 tries. Apisai Bati 2/4 conversions) Hitotsubashi Blue Lions 24 (4 tries, 2/4 conversions)
Man of the Match: Rory Brown.
Goat of the Match: Lonnie "GG" Childress
1.Mike Tokue (Scotland/Japan)
2.Toru Kanamori (Japan)
3.Chris Lucas (Australia)
4.Murray Clarke (c) (New Zealand)
5.Erin Hughes (USA)
6.Dave Kelver (USA)
7.Garren ‘Gaz’ Dalrymple (Scotland)
8.Joe Nawaqavanua (Fiji)
9.Rory Brown (South Africa)
10. Yoichi Ohira (Japan)
11. Blake Walker (New Zealand)
12. Apisai Bati (vc) (Fiji)
13. Kevin Rebay (France)
14. Yoshihiro Sato (Japan)
15. Jo Iwasaki (Japan)
16.Rob Poulton (England)
17.Joffa Harris (Australia)
18.Lonnie Childress (USA)