Rokko East RFC 25 Tokyo Gaijin 0

After the blow of last week?s Tokyo Cup final defeat, the Gaijin were determined to enjoy themselves in this end of tournament play-off. And with some rare sunshine burning off the bacteria from the otherwise swampy Kizooch field, there was a renewed appetite for the raw-boned thud of contact.

The Gaijin started well against a physical Rokko East outfit, some good teamwork in the loose balancing the superior cohesion of Rokko at the scrums. The line-out was also functioning efficiently, with Mike Taylor relishing the unusually dry conditions and this week admitting to more than a causal acquaintance with Yukio Suyama at hooker. With Murray Clarke providing jumping back-up, and some valuable added nous to the close-quarter back-row skirmishes, it looked as if the Gaijin might upset their fancied opponents.

It didn?t quite work out that way. The pressure in the scrums began to tell, and the pace of the Osaka team was making the Gaijin sweat. And on those rare occasions the defence was  breached, the well-trained Rokko squad became ruthless finishers of every half-chance. For the second week in a row, valiant tackling and opportunistic attack weren?t enough to overcome an organised opposition with no obvious weaknesses.

There were, however, many positives. Mauro Sauco discovered more about the mysteries of the front row, though it?s no great mystery that if eight burly characters collapse on top of you it?s going to hurt. Mauro clicked his spine and shoulders back into their slots and soldiered on. The high-octane So Nagashima also cemented his place at Number 7 with another hungry performance.

As the score mounted, not quickly, but steadily, the Gaijin spurned attempts at goal in favour of pressure and a prayer for some game-breaking moment of flair. Blake Walker at full-back was doing everything he could to get involved, even on one leg. Takeshi Takeda went on some characteristic darts while Todd Collins on the other wing took the more direct route: the only man in Tokyo who gets straight to intense without bothering with the tense part.

The evergreen Joffa Harris charged the ball up, captain Joe Fisher sucked in handfuls of tacklers, Jyoh Iwasaki smashed hard at the midfield. The interplay between backs and forwards was the best on show all season. From outside centre the buzzing Niall Conlon, living proof of the effectiveness of atomic-strength Thai Red Bull, made a clean break through the middle and the forwards were there in numbers in support. But still the try-line was always a metre too far, as if the pitch had been marked out incorrectly. At least for the Gaijin. Even for Cecil, who came on for an enthusiastic final twenty minutes.

The Gaijin tried brain, brawn, running wide, bashing narrow, dropping the ball, everything. But for the second week in a row, not a point to show for all that effort.

Never mind. A day of much honest toil and sweat, and no little pride, gives the club the opportunity to start next year?s Tokyo Cup where we started this one.  If we can play as many enjoyable Tokyo Cup matches in 2005, with as much commitment and good humour, then these last two losses have been no loss at all.

The faithful support-team stuck with the Gaijin to the bitter end, and as ever, the club is immensely grateful to Ayako, Ayako and Ayako, Shino, Sean Brophy, Paul, and Takayuki.  We salute you.

Man of the Match: Todd Collins

Michelin Man of the Match: Jerry Brady

Next up: Sugadaira Rugby Fest, Nagano, July 10/11