Thanks to Toru Kanemori for organizing the tickets to watch the New Zealand Universities squad face up to Japan's top school (and Toru's Alma Mater), Keio University, at a beautiful facility in Hiyoshi.
Paulo, Toby, Matt, Charles, Murray, Toru, his wife and a pack of noisy kids enjoyed a superb day out. Perfect sunshine, the shade of some trees, a ripping good Haka to start out and some brilliant rugby action all around. Keio were fielding a number of Old Boys who actually play professionally at Suntory and the likes, but the New Zealanders had a massive size advantage.
NZ Uni's got up and looked to be in control from the start, but gave up an penalty. They came back with a couple of nice tries on the left wing and looked to have the potential to cause the Keio lads some serious trouble. However as the first half wound down it was evident to all that the Kiwi's were going to have a tough time in the heat as the gaps started to appear in their defense.
As the second half warmed up, so did Keio and they came right back into the match after being down 16 to 27. Suddenly Keio were running the ball up the right wing and finding huge gaps in the Kiwi defense as tired "Gaijin" could not get up in the line. They were able to run in some great tries and close the game out, 30-27. It was a good result and one that should add confidence to the local rugby scene. Men of the Match selected by semi-inebriated Gaijin were the Keio Number 8 who ran hard, tackled well and had a huge work rate throughout, and his left winger (11) who was always dangerous with ball in hand and was cunning enough to intercept on two occasions. For the Kiwis' the inside center (12) made a number of significant line breaks and seemed a cut above the rest, while their left winger (11) was also a solid player who caused trouble for Keio early on, scoring a nice try.
For TGRFC members on the sidelines, it was refreshing to see that not only do we struggle in the heat against well drilled Japanese sides, but so do the supposed "best of New Zealand" schools. Fleet of foot with big side steps, the local lads are always a challenge. That challenge is made much more complec when the temperature runs over 25 degree's celcius. The Kiwi's ran out of puff and I believe we can be excused for being similar but can and should make more effort. But, after thoughtful consideration for the meantime, it was off to the pub for us.
Note though, that if we can keep the pace at 70-80 minutes we will win. Local First Div teams are training twice a week. If we can do some fitness work, in private, small groups or as a team, this will be a huge bonus. We have the skills and the size, but the passion and fitness is up to us.
PS: As Eddie Jones was seated a few meters away and intently watching the match, I thought I would add a link to an article of his in the NZ Herald this morning: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/rugby/news/article.cfm?c_id=80&objectid=10570025. Basically saying why Japan should be given the 2015 World Cup. I sure hope so.