Small leagues of highly competitive teams are often decided when the best two meet. The Gentle Giants RFC prepared well for the '08 Shuto League competition. We observed them attracting large squads to training and playing their previous encounters with discipline and determination. But...On Sunday the 8th of November, the Gentle Giants RFC faced a full and fearsome Tokyo Gaijin regiment.
As if an almost full complement of troops was not enough, talented new faces also bolstered the lines, with Hiroyuki Ikeuchi and Amir Yassari making debuts (well done Amir for making it to the correct ground this time...). Occasional visitor Alexis Ottenwaelter was also in attendance, fortunately once again in Tokyo on business. Making a first outing since Sugadaira was Alastair 'face first' Nimmo, whose cheek, fractured on tour, was judged adequately repaired from reconstructive surgery.The battlefield was the premium Inagi stadium, best ground on the Shuto circuit and the pitch on which the representative 'New Zealand Ambassador's Cup' match is played in mid December. The ground was wide, flat, hard, and well protected from the wind. Expectations were for an exciting and watchable encounter. The men who made it happen for us were Jesse Cutler at the organisational end and Blake Walker as linesman.
Play commenced with a sign that the Gentle Giants (GG) had one or two tricks up their sleeves. A low kick-off, making a precise bounce about 3m past the line was retrieved by their centre to grab them
immediate territory and possession. Shortly after, their moves from the breakdown revealed the tech
nical expertise that probably lead to their hitherto unbeaten record. Capable handling and movement by their loose forwards looked dangerous, and when the option was open, fast balls to the back line were delivered. However, the game plan that they envisioned was not allowed to succeed. Their forward moves depended on winning quick scrums and battering the opposition, and the backs moves depended on some line breaking and tackle dodging. The Gaijin responded to all these challenges with a winning resolve, playing one of their best defensive matches of the season. After one shaky scrum in the opening stages of the match, the front row of Scoobie Mynah, Toru Kanamori, and Takayuki Kitajima held firm for the Gaijin and managed to steal a couple of rotations from the GGs. Behind them Murray Cl
arke and Kevin Rebay kept the force on, and with Paulo B-E-R-RI-O-Z-A-B-A-L and Dave Kelver flanking, and Joffa Harris at 8, the tackling was watertight.After a period of pressure in the middle of the first half, Matt Downer put the high ball up, and must have been pleased to see the footspeed of Aki (Tsumugi Akiba) charging down the middle of the pitch, being first there to apply pressure that eventually led to a GG mistake. This started a spell of Gaijin pressure that led to the GG 22 line, where, after a turn over the GG full back took a clearing kick that veered to the middle of the pitch. Apisai Bati retrieved the ball and sped up field, fending off 2 tackles before offloading to Lonnie Childress who continued to progress to the opposition 22. After the ensuing ruck, half Rory Brown connected with Joffa Harris who brought in one tackler and then threw a cutout pass to Hitoshi Chihara who charged for the corner. The man who was cut out, Kevin Rebay, then doubled around Chihara. With his strength and foot speed, Chihara would probably have beaten his last remaining challenger, but instead unselfishly drew the last defender and moved the try-destined ball to Rebay in support. Rebay ran the last few metres unchallenged and the TGRFC were ahead on the scoreboard 5 v 0. Matt Downer unfortunately missed the conversion from wide out, leaving a zero comfort zone.
As with the first try, the second score was also a team effort, with almost every team member laying
claim to a touch en-route to the try line. Whilst the team was coping well with the attacking moves
of the opposition, they were doing themselves no favours at all with the high error rate. The referee justly punished handling errors, so despite the optimism that the backs had entertained for regular ball out wide, the reality was that the ball spent more time under hooker Toru Kanamori's nose than passing across the pitch. The Gaijin, a team of contradictions, did however manage to make everything work perfectly for a single brief play. The ball passed through countless hands with a succession of advances by the forwards followed by a sweep to an overlapped back line and a score by Aki. The conversion to Downer took the Gaijin to 12 – 0 at the halftime break.
During the interval replacements were made. Big Joe Nawaqavanua had finally arrived after some trave
lling difficulties, and he moved to centre to replace Aki who had overstretched one of his hamstring
s. Andy Ballard replaced Lonnie Childress on the wing and Alexis Ottenwaelter stepped in as flanker.
Later in the half Hiro and Erin Hughes replenished the forwards, whilst Amir Yassari stepped on to
The Gentle Giants were not going to let their best chance at the title for a few years pass without a fight. They must have had a few strong words during their huddle, since they came out hitting hard and running with determination. With their surge in play, and the continuing handling errors from the Gaijin, it was not difficult to predict how their first score would come about. Following a series of scrums near the half way line, Rory Brown got a ball out to big Joe Nawaqavanua whose hands were possibly feeling the cold. A knock on by him fell advantageously to the opposition, who broke in numbers through the line as the referee intelligently allowed this play to continue. With such a quick change in possession, Jo Iwasaki at fullback was the only defender, and he could only tackle one of three attacking players as the Giants got their first try under the posts. The successful conversion made it 12 v 7 to the TGRFC.
With their heads high from a score and a good start to the half, the GGs kept up the hard play. The Gaijin did look for the most part like the superior team, but could not string together long periods of non-erroneous play, making for an entrenched 20 minutes around the hour mark. These periods of nerve racking pressure have often seen the breaking of the Gaijin resolve, but not any longer. As their forwards attempted to make some space, ruthless Rebay and friends closed down anything that moved, and as they attempted to play from the backs, Big Joe and Bati crushed (NOT metaphorically speaking), the offending players. Alaister Nimmo also came on at 9 during this stage to keep a very firm grasp on his opposite number.
The line was breached with about 10 minutes to go as Andy Ballard retrieved a deep ball from the opposition full back. A big kick and chase up field applied some pressure on their back line, who unfortunately fumbled the ball just a few meters in front of the running Ballard, who managed to toe through another big kick that ended somewhere near the GG`s touch line. A superb lineout under pressure was cleared out by Takayuki Kitajima, two rucks later a ball out enabled Downer to show his class in attacking as he sold a beguiling dummy, slipped through the space and off loaded to Big Joe to score. A conversion, less than 10 minutes on the clock, and nothing to show for 20 minutes of out and out effort must have had an effect on the Giants.
Thus even hardline Gaijin supporters on the sidelines must have felt a short pang of sympathy after the restart. A Giants kickoff went routinely to the Gaijin forwards who set up a ruck on the half way line. From the outcoming ball, Downer intended to put the Giants back line under pressure with a high ball, chased by himself and the wingers. However the Giants were not able to reach it for the first bounce, and the unpredictable second bounce shot directly into the belly of Amir. Traveling already at full speed, the opponents were never going to prevent the Iranian winger from sealing an emphatic Gaijin win.
The Gaijin played well as a team but Kevin Rebay was a standout yet again with his ferocious tackles and strong charges. Matt Downer led the backline with his usual authority and got the Gaijin out of some sticky situations with his ever-reliable boot. The two shared the Man of the Match award. Lonnie Childress shared the Goat of the Game ‘Award’ with Joe Nawaqavanua due to his earlier mistakes in the first half. Joe was caned for being responsible for the GG`s only try and also for arriving just before halftime after getting lost on the way to the ground.
SCORE: TGRFC 24 (Kevin Rebay 1, Tsumugi Akiba 1, Joe Nawaqavanua 1, Amir Yassari 1 tries, Matt Downer 2/4 conversions) beat Gentle Giants RFC 7 (1 try, 1 conversion)
Man of the Match:Kevin Rebay, Matt Dowwner
Goat of the Match:"Big" Joe Nawaqavanua, Lonnie Childress
1. Justin 'Scoobie' Mynah (USA)
2. Toru Kanamori (Japan)
3. Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)
4. Murray Clarke (New Zealand)
5. Kevin Rebay (France)
6. Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)
7. Dave Kelver (USA)
8. Joffa Harris (Australia)
9. Rory Brown (South Africa)
10. Matt Downer (New Zealand)
11. Lonnie Childress (USA)
12. Tsumugi ‘Aki’ Akiba (Japan)
13. Apisai Bati (Fiji)
14. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
15. Jo Iwasaki (Japan)
16. So Nagashima (Japan)
17. Mike Tokue (Japan/Scotland)
18. Erin Hughes (USA)
19. Alexis Ottenwaelter (France)
20. Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (Japan)
21. Alaister Nimmo (England)
22. Joe Nawaqavanua (Fiji)
23. Andy Ballard (England)
24. Yoshiro Sato (Japan)
25. Amir Yassari (Austria)