(25th January, 2009) The Tokyo Gaijin RFC (TGRFC) turned up to Asahi Shinbun ground out in Misato hoping to turn the tables on Akanegahama after defeats in two previous ‘friendly’ games. It was a chance to give some less experienced players more game time but the Gaijin still wanted to win after the losing their first match of the new year. Many of the Gaijin squad opted to walk from the station rather than the usual taxi ride, which meant most players arrived at the field at the proposed kick-off. Thankfully this was a 'friendly' and the 'Hama boys were happy enough to delay the start for a quick Gaijin warm up.

After this less than ideal start, the Gaijin started cold and were quickly under pressure. Akanegahama had the early running and took a 7 v 0 lead after 10 minutes. The Gaijin were defending in their own half and two penalties in quick succession for ruck infringements allowed Akanegahama to gain good ground and go on the attack. Some poor defense allowed one of the Akanegahama centers to crash over the line 10 metres left of the post. As he did so he was hit in a tackle and the ball seemed to spill forward. A follow-up attacker picked the ball up and dived over the tryline and the referee had no hesitation in giving the try. The try was then converted by the standoff and the ‘Hama were away to a good start and seemingly carrying on where they left off last game. Score: 7 v 0 to Akanegahama.

After some to-ing and fro-ing and a missed penalty goal from both teams, Apisai Bati was the first to awake the Gaijin from their slumber. With just after 20 minutes of the game gone a pass from Matt Downer went straight through the hands of Al Nimmo. Bati picked it up on the bounce, beat two tacklers and raced away to score next to the posts. The successful conversion from Matt Downer made the score 7 v 7.

This was to be the score at halftime and it was a forgettable half as far as the Gaijin were concerned. It was a half riddled with mistakes. Even the reliable Matt Downer had missed a gettable penalty, dropped an early (good) pass from half Hitoshi Chihara, and kicked the ball dead from a penalty in the first 10 minutes. Strong defense and the litany of mistakes ensured that the first half was a tight struggle. There were some bright spots for the Gaijin as the half came to a close and captain Murray Clarke told his crew to ‘keep calm’ and ‘stop panicking under pressure and things would begin to sort themselves out’. Andy Ballard had come on at Fullback just before halftime to replace the injured Jo Iwasaki and the rest of the reserves were bought on at halftime to give them more game-time experience.

Apisai Bati, as he had done in the first half, was the first Gaijin player to score. From a series of pick’n’drives, quick hands from halfback Chihara to Toby Gallagher, onto Matt Downer, and finally onto Joffa Harris looked like breaking down as Harris was tackled. However, Harris managed to get a bounce pass away in the tackle onto Bati who raced the last 5 metres unchallenged to dot down just to the left of the posts. Downer had no problem converting making the score 14 v 7 to the Gaijin.

The next try also came from the individual brilliance of Bati after some good lead up work by the forwards. Bati fooled the defense with an in and out then back in to score under the posts for the easily converted try. Score: 21 v 7 to the TGRFC.

The next try was almost a carbon copy of the last with Bati fooling the defense with some good footwork and pushing off a couple of would-be tacklers to score under the posts again. Downer succeeded with the conversion and the TGRFC were starting to pull away from the ‘Hama. Score: Gaijin 28 v Akanegahama 7 (Bati 20). It is the first time in this writer’s memory that someone had scored 4 tries in a game for the Tokyo Gaijin. (Note: Bati has had a couple of hat tricks).

The Tokyo Gaijin squad was now on a roll and making huge gains up field with concerted running. New recruit, Toby Gallagher was making a strong impact with his tight work and with his line out work, stealong a good many of the 'Hama throws.

Soon after one of Toby's big breaks that nearly ended in a try but for a knock on, starting from just inside the Akanegahama 22 metre line, ‘Pyscho’ was called and a wall of forwards, with their backs to the opposition, was set up. The targeted runner was Sauco but he failed to hold onto the ball for what would have been a certain try.  The big Argentinian forward was having a strong game, showing excellent fitness but had his hands let him down on this one.

Despite the sometimes-poor handling the Gaijin were swarming all over their opposition and the weight of possession soon told. A quick tap from a ruck penalty by Chihara was passed onto the ever-present Gallagher who beat a defender, drew the fullback and passed to Will Thompson. Thompson showed good hands to pick the ball off his knees and beat the cover defense to score to the right of the posts. Downer converted and the game was as good as over. Score: 35 v 7 to the TGRFC.

The Gaijin wanted more though to prove that the last two defeats at the hands of Akanegahama were nothing more than blips on the radar. A beautifully weighted cross field kick from Downer landed just inside the Akanegahama goal line. As the defending fullback went to ground the ball Alaister Nimmo dived on it like a panther to score 10 metres in from the sideline. Downer failed to convert this time leaving the score at 40 v 7.

There was to be one last try from the Gaijin. A scrum to Akanegahama on halfway was to be the catalyst of the try. The Akanegahama Club won the feed and the halfback, under some pressure from Chihara at the base of the scrum, passed the ball out to the standoff. Gallagher, now playing at flanker and showing excellent speed, tackled him as he went to pass the ball out to his centers. The ball spilled to the ground and Gallagher scooped it up and ran about 50 metres to score under the posts. Downer converted and the Gaijin were winners to the tune of 47 v 7. It had been a comprehensive victory and sweet revenge for the last two losses to Akanegahama!

Toby Gallagher, in only his second start for the Gaijin, deserved to finish with the last try as he had toiled hard all day, showing a good turn of pace, working hard around the ruck area all day and also winning all his own ball and more than half of the opposition's at the line outs. He, along with Joffa Harris who had also made some excellent bullocking charges and line splitting runs, was jointly awarded the Man of the Match award. In the backs, Apisai Bati could probably consider himself unlucky not to take out the award as his 4 tries, the first four scored by the Gaijin, were instrumental in getting them on the way to a big victory and serve to wake his team mates up at the same time as shock the opposition into submission. Bati, at 37, is like a fine wine and keeps getting better with age. Despite losing some pace over the years, he still has a very deceptive step and explosive power, and is very difficult to stop from 20 metres out.

Matt Downer was also instrumental in many attacks and making a lot of ground with his booming kicks. Andy Ballard made a good fist at fullback when he replaced Jo Iwasaki and was very dependable under the high ball. Flanker Ronnie Alvarez, and wings Charles Joffre (who came on at flank) and Yusuke Kobayashi showed signs of promise in their first starts for the TGRFC.

The result came at quite a cost to the Gaijin with quite a few injuries picked up. Jo Iwasaki who came off the field with a horrible lump between his shoulder and collarbone and will go under the knife this week. Apparently he will have a bolt inserted into his shoulder and will need ligaments sown back together. Mauro Sauco broke a rib but was able to play most of the second half despite the pain (this at least explained the dropsie's on the Psycho move!); Toru Kanamori also chipped one of his front teeth (it was interesting watching him trying to get the embedded tooth out of his mouth guard!) and finally Gaz Dalrymple sustained some ligament damage to his ankle.

SCORE: TGRFC 47 (A.Bati 4, T. Gallagher 1, A.Nimmo 1, W. Thompson 1 tries; M.Downer 6/7 conversions, 0/1 penalties) Akanegahama 7 (1 try, 1/1 conversion, 0/1 penalties)

MAN OF THE MATCH: Joffa Harris & Toby Gallagher

GOAT OF THE MATCH: Lonnie Childress for a few spilled kicks

TEAM:

1. Chris Lucas (Australia)
2. Toru Kanamori (Japan)
3. Mauro Sauco (Argentina)
4. Murray Clarke © (New Zealand)
5. Toby Gallagher (England)
6. Rolando ‘Ronnie’ Alvarez (Mexico)
7. Joffa Harris (Australia)
8. Gaz Dalrymple (Scotland)
9. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
10. Matt Downer (vc) (New Zealand)
11. Ikuo Fukuda (Japan)
12. Alaister Nimmo (England)
13. Apisai Bati (Fiji)
14. Yoshihiro Sato (Japan)
15. Jo Iwasaki (Japan)
16. Will Thompson (Australia)
17. Andy Ballard (England)
18. Lonnie Childress (USA)
19. Yusuke Kobayashi (Japan)
20. Charles Joffre (France)