Sunday Feb 8th saw a friendly match between the Gaijin and the boys from the USS George Washington, who wanted to venture off base to get a taste of rugby local style. After finding a field and referee at the last minute, the Gaijin and Navy lads were set to do battle on the fields of Shibamata, the rugby then to be followed up with some serious grilling and beer consumption. With word out that the GW boys were being kind enough as to drag half a cow all the way from Yokosuka Naval Base early that morning for the post-match barbecue - the Tokyo Gaijin saw a record number of props show for the match, though were surprised when realising that prop forward Chris Lucas was conspicuously absent. Wind conditions were difficult and steadily worsening, setting up a blustery match and giving grave concern to all about the potential to barbecue.
The game was a fairly scrappy affair with mistakes from both teams coming in big doses. The icy wind caused it's fair share of havoc with kicking and passing, allowing the Gaijin to pin the GW lads into the corners through the boot of Matthew Downer at first-five. Dave Kelver (who had a very strong game, especially in the loose) won what throw-ins we had while he also upset a fair number of throws by the Navy hooker. With only 3 experienced rugby players in the Navy team, the Gaijin expected a physical and enthusiastic but technically less than competent opposition but throughout the match the Navy team’s physicality and athleticism had the Gaijin scrambling in defence and at the ruck.
It was the Gaijin who got on the score board early with Paulo Berriozaballo scoring a try out wide after some solid work by the forwards. This was soon followed by a dropped ball within the GW 22 allowing Bati Apisai to pounce from center, pick up and score behind the posts for another try. Later in the half some nice backline handling saw Downer put Andy Ballard into space on the left wing and the big winger racing past his man to smash through two cover tacklers out near the corner flag. Andy was wrapped up just on the line but showed great awareness and determination in twisting his body and placing the ball on the line for the try. Toward the end of the half, the Gaijin infringed a little too often and let the Navy bash their way up into the 22. It was only a mishandled tap penalty that allowed the Gaijin to escape and clear their lines, finishing the half with a 15-0 lead. It had been a fairly uneventful first half bar the scoring highlights provided by the three tries of Paulo, Andy and Bati.
The referee was controlling the match well and explained his decisions and the relevant rules to the players clearly and comprehensively which was a great service to the Navy forwards who were brimming with enthusiasm and energy but clearly lacking knowledge/experience in some areas of the game.
The second half.
Following on from the first forty minutes, the game was really condemned to deliver more of the same humdrum play in the second forty due to there being no let up in the trying conditions. Many players - especially those out wide - were getting cold and beginning to pine for the oncoming steak and beverages.
Once again we saw the George Washington lads pinned down mainly inside their own half by both the wind’s force and the Gaijin’s tactical kicking. Matt Downer was mixing it up with some very clever kicking designed to either test the opposition backs under the highball, to keep them going back and giving something for the more rugby savvy Gaijin players something to chase after.
A few promising moves were worked in the backline and had the ball passing through more than the usual two pairs of hands which of course is quite a feat in itself given the anti-social weather. On one occasion, one such move ended somewhat disappointingly as the ball, largely due to its gust-affected irregular downward flight pattern, rotated unpredictably ensuring that it passed cleanly through the outstretched arms of winger Lonnie and rebounded about three metres off of his chest.
The contest was even at this point. A few times when the Gaijin did manage to breech the Navy 22, there were penalties awarded to TGRFC. Nothing came of these scoring opportunities except for when Blake Walker trotted over the line in a style reminiscent of the Canterbury Crusaders making it all look so simple and when replacement No.8 Saki who took the ball off the back of one scrum about 5 metres out and went through beside the posts hardly touched. The conversion was successful. These two tries were really the only punctuation in a second half rather devoid of any thrills and spills.
Final score: Tokyo Gaijin 27 - USS GW 0
The next drama was for the teams to escape the howling wind and find a suitable place to ‘grill and swill’. Luckily, Mauro Sauco a former local resident, imparted some local coordinates for where most of the 60 or so attendee's could be shuttled by car. The site was a tree-filled park a few kilometers away from the day’s game field. Some less fortunate but hardy souls, such as Joffa Harris, walked the whole way – (and then as if that was not enough punishment, later trudged all the way back to the station!!).
The barbecue itself when all set up, took it's time to fire up but when finally it was all aglow, the steaks and sausages made for a fine feast with plenty of beer to wash them down. All in all it was a very good event, being enjoyed by all those present and one that will likely be repeated.
The George Washington crew were a very genial bunch who no doubt enjoyed proceedings as thoroughly, if not more than we did.
This friendly game and barbecue had been great therapy for these men and perhaps also for the Gaijin… Our confidence in being able to enjoy after match festivities/revelry after playing a good clean game against ‘gaijin’ brothers had been eroded by some rather bitter memories arising from a recent game against an ‘established’ gaijin team… Many conversations were had and many if not most were not connected with rugby at all… We left as friends and perhaps made a special bond with their team.
Thanks go to the boys from the USS George Washington and their support crew for coming all the way up from Yokosuka with 55 prime steaks of US Beef for the barbecue. We sincerely hope they enjoyed their day out on the dirt track.
Player(s) of the Day: Andy Ballard for a strong performance on the wing and Blake Walker for another great effort at full back; both scored tries on the day but played with confidence and speed that helped the team immensely.
Goat of the Match: A little unfair to award as no-one really did anything too bad, but we gave this to a slightly over-enthusiastic Chris Fearon for his fiery temperament and the fact that as a prop he put in a little chip kick (which props are usually not encouraged to do).