Children turned out in their droves in anticipation to watch their beloved mentors compete against their fathers, as the "Superman" vs the Tokyo Gaijin match kicked off at an unsuspecting venue... on top of a water treatment plant on the outskirts of town. Contrary to rumours spread around the rugby club however, the opposition team named "Superman" does not in fact boast a line-up of superheroes. Nonetheless the TGRFC knew that this would be a serious test for them.
Despite its angelic name, "Superman" was ejected out of the Tokyo Cup 1st division a matter of months ago for fielding professional players. This left a space available in the 1st division and as runners up to the 2nd division, the TGRFC were promoted and will be kick-starting their campaign in the Tokyo Cup 1st division in April. Thus this match would prove to be a litmus test for upcoming fixtures, and a tough one it was too.
Many students of rugby never get the opportunity to play on top of an industrial type factory, and given the lack of grass and abundance of gravel, this surface is not recommended. However the sun was shining and the weather conditions were about as good as one can get for a March morning. The starting line-up for the TGRFC lacked a couple of the regulars: Bati was on call at his work place - a beer factory, and Andy Ballard was in intense training for the Tokyo Marathon the subsequent week. However, Semi Liene was filling in to maintain our Fijian ranks, while Captain Murray Clarke and Vice-Captain Matt Downer ensured that spirits were high in preparation for the game.
The TGRFC got off to a good start... The forwards looked solid with Captain Murray Clarke leading from the front. As a dominant presence in the line-outs together with a recent recruit, Toby Gallaher, the TGRFC’s set-pieces provided a solid platform for the backs to work off. The scrums were equally impressive, as although the TGRFC failed to win a scrum against the head, provided clean ball for scrum-half Alaister Nimmo. The props Chris Lucas and Takayuki Kitajima were instrumental in supporting hooker Toru Kanamori as the TGRFC scrum never looked like crumbling. The rucks however saw Superman win the upper hand, and as the game progressed, it was clear that set-pieces were not enough to secure a victory. The opposition flankers were a good match for our back-row, as Dave Kelver and Paolo Berriozabal scrapped for every back in tight play. Despite the best efforts of Mike Crafton who played his second game for the TGRFC as a second row, the rucks proved to be one of Superman’s strengths.
From forward play, the Superman passed efficiently out to the backs and opened up the game. To start with the Gaijin back’s defensive line held very well. Another sterling effort from flay-half Matt Downer saw tackle after tackle prevented the Superman from reaching the TGRFC try line. Centres Semi Leine and Tsumugi Akiba backed up Downer but within the first 15 minutes, Superman managed to break through the TGRFC defence and scored a try. With ball in hand, Downer opted for the boot early on with wings Lonnie Childress and Hitoshi Chihara chasing hard. However the backline failed to make a clear break of the Superman line which is something that the back’s coach will have to work on in the coming weeks. A further blow to the team was full-back Blake Walker’s short-lived return from injury. He pulled up short with a pulled hamstring, as did Fijian centre Semi. The doctors say that both players should recover in the next two weeks. Short of backs, replacements Sean O'Donoghue and Yusuke Kobayashi filled in for the remainder of the game.
The Superman continued to run threatening lines and by the half time whistle, had managed to plant the ball 4 times behind the try line. In response, the TGRFC took two penalties thanks to Downer’s boot but without a convincing spell in the opposition 22, failed to turn possession into points.
Just before the half-time whistle blew, the referee halted play for a high tackle by Berriozabal. Despite protests from the TGRFC team, the yellow card was shown and the Gaijin found themselves with 14 players. Half-time came with the Gaijin down 6-19, and Clarke’s speech focussed on cutting out the unnecessary penalties (diving over rucks, hands etc), illegal play and to focus on the game. However the TGRFC struggled to do so and a few substitutions were made.
Lacking in backs, changes were made in the forwards, as Chris Fearon and Mauro Sauco were sent on to rattle the cage. However as the match wore on, concentration faded and the persistent whistle-blowing by the referee frustrated the players. When captain Murray Clarke came off due to injury, the pack lost a bit of shape, and further substitutions were necessary. The Togo brothers Tomo and Yoz attempted to lift spirits mimicking other sibling greats such as the Hastings brothers or the Olsen Twins. However by then confidence was low and frustration was high. Jonathan Burns made also his first start for the team.
The final score of 6-41 illustrates just how tough the 1st division will be for the TGRFC. Nobody ever said it would be easy, but it seems like on this occasion, the TGRFC's temper got the better of them as they lost focus of the game at key moments in the second half. This will no doubt be one of the issues management will address in the coming months but we must remember that this was the second best side in the Tokyo club competition last season, so they make a great benchmark.
Man of the Match was awarded to Hitoshi Chihara for a good all-round game, packing in a tonne of intensity; other mentions included Matthew Downer and Mike Crafton for big efforts, as well as Paulo Berriozabal for stepping up even while carrying an injury. Goat of the Match was Murray Clarke for forgetting to bring the jerseys. Luckily, he lived a 10 minute drive from the pitch - a complete stroke of luck as if we happened to be in Saitama or Chiba, we would have been in big trouble!
Final Score: TGRFC 6 (Downer 2 penalties); Superman RFC 41 (7 tries, 3 conv.))
Man of Match: Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
Goat of Match: Murray Clarke (New Zealand)
The Team vs. Superman Club:
2. Toru Kanamori (Japan)
3. Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)
4. Murray Clarke (c) (New Zealand)
5. Mike Crafton (USA)
6. Dave Kelver (USA)
7. Toby Gallagher (Ireland)
8. Paulo Berriozabal (Basque)
9. Al Nimmo (England)
10. Matt Downer (New Zealand)
11. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
12. Tsumugi Akiba (Japan)
13. Semi Leine (Fiji)
14. Lonnie Childress (USA)
15. Blake Walker (New Zealand)
16. Chris Fearon (New Zealand)
17. Mauro Sauco (Argentina)
18. Tomo Togo (Japan)
19. Yoz Togo (Japan)
20. Sean O'Donoghue (Ireland)
23. Jonathan Burns (USA)