June 7, 2009 had the Tokyo Gaijin out at Misato's Sankei Sports Ground with pride on the line and Rokko East to beat. With several days of rain behind us, the sun was again out in force to make the humidity level brutal and the setting just right for a tough day out on the pitch. It was necessary though as the Gaijin had thus far had a mixed Cup series: a totally unnecessary (and nasty) loss to Musashino; a fair spanking (once we wilted in the heat) against Kurumi; and a hard fought but close battle with Tama. The Gaijin still were without a win but were improving rapidly. Going in to the final round, two clubs were sitting on a win a piece - Rokko East (who beat Musashino) and Musashino (who beat us) - and we thought the Gaijin had a last chance to pull even with a win against Rokko. Should the Gaijin win by 9 points, so the logic went, Rokko would be the lowest placed team on points differential and would be forced to play a promo/relegation match to stay in the first division (i.e. who would get the wooden spoon for coming last!). TGRFC had made their minds up and decided that we are very much capable of 1st Division rugby and wanted whole-heartedly to win this one against a team who beat us in the final minutes in 2008. Our thinking was in fact out of order as Manager Jesse Takahashi let us know (after the game), that it was in fact too late for us to avoid the promo/relegation match as Musashino had picked a few bonus points to be clear 3rd on the table. Though both Rokko and Tokyo Gaijin were headed for a promo/relegation game, this weekend was all about the battle for the wooden spoon.

Starting out the Gaijin looked solid and immediately were into the Rokko 22. Rokko kicked their way out a few times but the Gaijin kept pushing. Toby Gallagher stole the first line out ball from Rokko at the half way and off went a hungry forward pack, charging their way up through Paulo de Berriozabal. Paulo offloaded nicely to Big Rich O'shea who then found Arthur "Del" Strang for a big hit up the middle. From the ensuing ruck though there was a knock on and Rokko were off the hook.

The first scrums looked fairly even but the Gaijin were pinged a few times for not binding on the flank. Also the Gaijin were caught not retreating their 10 yards a few times through the match and Rokko were given far more opportunities than they deserved. Thankfully our tall timber (Rich and Toby) were causing a few headaches for the Rokko line out and we were able to steal quite a bit of ball either cleanly or at the back, to keep them at bay. The first real break out came after about 10 minutes when Big Arthur took a high ball and ran back at the Rokko chasers, bursting through and releasing the back line. A forward pass ended the play but Aki was away and off toward the line. Next up a scrum outside their 22 went wrong for Roko when Gaijin blind-side Paulo pounced on the ball and set up Toby for a nice run. The lanky Irishman then offloaded to Tsumugi Akiba for the try that he should have had moments before. First blood: 7-nil.

Stung early, Rokko were quick to respond and fought their way back into the Gaijin 22, attacking the line and keeping the Gaijin pinned. The Gaijin lads were not helping themselves by allowing the trigger happy referee to penalize them for almost everything you can imagine (but mostly for blatent fouls like not rolling away, holding on, being offside, using hands and all that). If we could stop giving away these penalties we would not have given Rokko the chance to level the scores - so despite some hard work in defense, inevitably Rokko scored a try through their center to make the score 7-5 to the Gaijin.

DSC_4185After the score by Rokko, it did not take long for us to pick ourselves up. Adding an extra lifter to help Big Rich up worked immediately and he stole a clean line out to provide the chance for another attack. Off went Bati on a nice run, offloading to Arthur who made solid ground only to be unlucky with the offload going forward. The gaijin then proceeded to give up more ground from penalties but it was our dominant line out again that allowed us to get back in the game. Making something from nothing, suddenly Bati picked up and blasted off down the blindside. With Toby in support on the flank, Bati threw a dummy in his direction and fooled the covering fullback to take the Gaijin up 14-5.

A much needed water break was had as the temperature felt much hotter than the 27 degrees that was bandied around pre-match. The lads felt confident and fired up by the momentum of the game, knowing that they just needed to control the penalty count to control the match. Possession was coming and with strong scrummaging by Takayuki Kitajima and Chris Lucas, and strong line out work by the whole pack, the Gaijin were slowly breaking the Rokko forwards. Their backs were still a nuisance and especially their quick footed inside center was making some strong runs. The trend had been set though and we continued moved our way back toward the Rokko 22 after the restart and yet another line out steal by the Gaijin had Matt Downer chipped (chipping) nicely through the slightest of gaps for Hitoshi Chihara to gather (off a difficult bounce) and send the ball to Aki outside him. Aki was again able to crash through his man and score a fine converted try to take us up 21-5 with 6-7 minutes remaining in the half.

The rest of the half saw the Gaijin fall back into the penalty trap with the whistle happy referee and it was a mixed bag for us. Hitoshi Chihara featured on two occasions to single handedly get us out of trouble with his cover tackling. Bati Apisai also had some nice runs while Riki and Blake combined well to trap the Rokko full back and win a penalty. Chris Lucas had a big run smashing through the oncoming defense to set up Hitoshi and Tomo for some short runs but unfortunately the Gaijin could not pick up more points before the much needed rest.

It was evident with the score being 21-5 and the momentum swinging in the Gaijin's favour that Rokko were on the edge of a tough second spell. They had no reserves while the Gaijin game plan was to make full use of a strong bench to close the game out in the second half. The damage had been inflicted and Blake Walker made room for Brendan Doherty (first game for us in 8 years!) with a few more subs to come early in the second spell. Brendan moved into first-five (flyhalf) and Matthew Downer moved into second-five (inside center) to link up with Aki at outside center. The mood was positive as this 'must win' game was going our way.

Very quickly in the second spell it was evident that Rokko were tiring. Our tackling was superb through this spell and Bati and Paulo switching at the back of the scrum changed the dynamics of our forward attack. Rokko on the other hand were beginning to miss tackles that they had previously made, but you could not take anything away from the great handling of the Gaijin lads on the field and the quality of the try that came first up. From our 22 Matt Downer ran up with Aki outside him. Aki took the ball up nicely for the forwards to clean out and then it was their turn. The forwards hit the ball up, offloading in the tackles to keep the momentum going outside over the 10 meter line and into the Rokko half. It seemed that the quick passing had the ball in every players hands at some stage of this phase until Brendan's pace took him through the line and over the Rokko 22 with Hitoshi close by. Doherty gave the ball on to Hitoshi and looped around, giving an extra man, from there it was a simple touch down over the tryline.

DSC_4346Soon thereafter, Brendan Doherty was again involved in a key play as Rokko looked to kick through our defense. Doherty ignited the attack once more and offloaded for the support to keep the ball moving. After the ball went through several pairs of hands Yoichi doubled around to get close to the line. Though repelled, he popped the ball nicely to Hitoshi who flicked it on to Riki Pitter who dotted down for another try.

Doherty picked up his second try soon after when he somehow managed to block a Rokko kick through from half way, scooping the ball up to race away toward the posts. He found himself swarmed by the Rokko wingers and fullback though Paulo was outside him looking to support. Paulo was surplus to requirements though as Doherty dummied and split the defenders to go over and score the try. Points at this stage were coming thick and fast!

Through the next phases all the players worked hard to win us the ball as well as to keep the ball alive. It moved quickly between players and we made great yardage. Some telling mauls were established by Big Arthur and Rob Poulton who had come on for Chris Lucas. Brendan, Matt, Aki and Hitoshi were all linking up very nicely, as was Al at half back feeding the players around him. The forwards were providing good, quick, clean ball and our attack was in full flight because of this. Riki Pitter had a nice run through this period also but we were knocking the ball on and eventually it was a team run up field that featured Matt Downer, most of the forward pack (especially nice run by Paulo), Riki Pitter and Brendan, who set Bati up with his second try of the day.

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Rokko were struggling to keep pace and at the next restart Big Arthur again made a huge break through the tired Roko forwards with Rob Poulton again continuing it forward up the left side of the field. The support was

there (and included prop Taka Kitajima who was having a huge game) as the ball went wide out right, Riki Pitter cut back in and found himself in space going for the line. Riki has been out of rugby a while and it seemed his pace had left him somewhat as he desperately tried to beat the cover defense but he lost the ball in the tackle to miss out on a certain try.

The next try was to come from another piece of class from Doherty where he split the defense with deft ball fakes

toward Downer and Aki, taking the ball over the Rokko 22 to offload to Andy Ballard. These two had combined early in a very nice escape act from our 22 as Brendan offloaded in the tackle to give Andy inches of room where the Englishman tip-toed along the line and then kicked ahead to gain solid yards. This time though he had more work to do and he did well to protect the ball in traffic for the forwards to recycle at pace to Brendan once more. Finally it was Yoichi Ohira who was outside to take the pass and race over for another very nice 5-pointer.

DSC_4366The final try began with a huge tackle by pint-sized half back Al Nimmo (who punches way above his weight!). With Rokko looking dangerous, Al utterly smashed his opposite for the ball to pop out and into the hands of Chris Fearon who barged his way upfield to offload to Andy Ballard who raced off with Matt Downer inside him. Matt got the pass around 30 meters out and beat the fullback with his fend to score by the posts.

Rokko then came back to put the pressure on an obviously tiring Gaijin team and had us camped in our 22 for the final spell of the game. Despite some solid tackling they eventually broke through when their inside center (definitely man of the match for them) slipped a tackle and put one of his team mates over.

Overall it was a thoroughly entertaining match. The Gaijin were effectively down by 8 points before the kick

off and desperate to get ahead of Rokko in terms of overall points differential. The Rokko East XV should showed great determination to pluck a try from us at the end and they were visably shattered by the full 80 minutes with no subsitutes on such a scorching hot day. The Gaijin had an extremely strong outfit starting the match and off the bench to inflict the damage required to boost Gaijin confidence after such a slow start to the campaign. There were strong ball carriers and superb support players, linking up and securing the ball for the others to score the tries.

It was unfortunate that we had so many club members and players who were unable to take the field but their day will come. Those that helped out deserve a special thanks and the likes of Yoshi Sato, Kobayashi-kun, Fukuda-kun, Dave Kelver, Gazza and Yoz did us proud. Certainly this was the team result that we were looking for and the beers afterwards were cold and tasty.

A big thanks to Kumiko, Ai, Shio Sara and the other girls. On this day more than any other the water was a requirement and we hope you also enjoyed the afternoon out.

Well done everyone and we will see you at the even more important - read: MUST WIN - promo/relegation match!

Final Standings of Tokyo Cup Division 1 Table:

 

Final Score: TGRFC 57 (Akiba 2, Bati 2, Doherty 2, Pitter, Ohira, Downer tries; Downer 6/9 conversions, 0/1 penalties); Rokko East 12 (2 tries, 1 conv)

Medical: Yoshihiro Sato

Player of the Day: Hitoshi Chihara

Match Day 22:

1. Chris Lucas (Australia)

2. Tomo Togo (England/Japan)

3. Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)

4. Arthur "Del" Strang (USA/England)

5. Rich O'Shea (Sunny Wales)

6. Apisai Bati (Fiji)

7. Toby Gallagher (Ireland)

8. Paulo de Berriozabal (The Basque)

9. Alistair Nimmo (England)

10. Matthew Downer (c) (New Zealand)

11. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)

12. Tsumugi "Aki" Akiba (Japan)

13. Blake Walker (New Zealand)

14. Riki Pitter (South Africa)

15. Yoichi Ohira (Japan)

16. Rob Poulton (England)

17. Chris Fearon (New Zealand)

18. Mauro Sauco (Argentina)

19. Erin "Welshman" Hughes (USA/Wales)

20. Joffa Harris (Australia)

21. Brendan Doherty (Australia)

22. Andy Ballard (England)