Dateline: Sunday April 13th, 2008. Thirteen is often an auspicious number and on the weekend it proved to be once again for an overconfidence, dare I say, apathetic Gaijin team.
Fresh from a five week layoff from our last game, the Tokyo Gaijin arrived in Saitama for our first game of Tokyo Cup 2008. The Gaijin were scheduled to play the Fuji Club at noon. Having won our previous two meetings with the Fuji Club, the first victory in last year’s Tokyo Cup, and most recently a comprehensive victory by the Gaijin back in October, the Gaijin went into Saitama confident of another victory.
The Gaijin had in previous weeks focused on playing forwards rugby, much attention being put to rucking and mauling, the key being ball retention. Our game plan therefore was to keep possession through forwards breaking the advantage line, some good rucking, and eventually shipping it to the backs to expose gaps in the opposition’s defence.
As noon approached, the Gaijin ran on to a muddy field in Saitama in great anticipation.
The whistle to signal the start of the match went, and the Gaijin immediately got their hands on their ball and started strong. Our rucking and mauling was sound, and we were soon in opposition territory. Methodically working our way towards the try line, and retaining the ball, we pressured our opposition and were quickly rewarded with a penalty 25 metres out from the goal post. Straight out in front, Matt Downer converted the penalty with relative ease. The Gaijin were up 3-0.
On the restart, Fuji Club had their first taste of possession and also was intent on keeping it in their forward pack, which showed much vigor. Some time passed and the backs on both sides were unable to produce much, a credit to our defense as well as theirs.
However, it was not long before our opposition exposed a Gaijin weakness. A short time passed before our opposition ran their first maul. A maul so nicely organized found the Gaijin unable to contain the opposition maul. As a result, it was through a maul the Gaijin were unable to stop which led to the first try of the match. The try was nicely converted from the side. Fuji Club had their first lead, 7-3.
Not to be deterred, the Gaijin quickly regrouped through some great backs play. The play involved passing the ball left through the backs, with Matt Downer shadowing the ball eventually getting the ball back, and with the opposition defense just meters away rushing up towards him, a clever chip in behind on the blindside allowed Tucker to chase, retrieve the ball, and stroll in for a spectacular try. The conversion was unsuccessful, but the Gaijin reclaimed the lead, 8-7.
The remainder of the half quickly went by, but not before our opposition was awarded a penalty, calmly converted, the score at halftime was Fuji Club 10, Gaijin 8.
In the second half, it was agreed that more possession of the ball was needed if we were to come out victorious. The Gaijin started the second half as they had started the first, playing much of our rugby in opposition territory. 5 minutes into the second half, the Gaijin were defending in opposition territory when a rare handling error occurred. Quick thinking No. 13 Riki Pitter rushed up and kicked the ball off the ground towards the try line. Pitter was able to beat the opposition to the ball for a try. With this, the Gaijin yet again reclaimed the lead, 13-10.
However, the lead was short lived. Behind by 3 points, it was not long after our opposition went back to what they did best, maul. They would maul their hearts out, one maul going at least 40 meters before collapsing. The referee didn`t seem to mind that the maul would occasionally go sideways or seem to grind to a halt and was happy to let it roll on. It was about this time that prop forward Takayuki Kitajima was sin binned for grabbing the neck of an opposition forward in a rolling maul leaving the Gaijin with just 14 men for the next 10 minutes. Around 5 minutes later Fuji Club would cross over for another try. The forward controlling the ball at the back of the maul was never correctly bound at the back but it seemed like no Gaijin forward was willing to incur the wrath of the referee by storming around and tackling him. The try was fortunately unconverted and Fuji led 15-13.
The Gaijin then felt the pressure. Loose handling in the backs and untidy rucks plagued the Gaijin rugby. In spite of the pressure, the Gaijin were able to muster a few clean line breaks, ever threatening the defensive line, but our opposition contained all efforts.
In the 60th minute, a turnover deep in our territory saw disaster. Our opposition once again exploited our weakness, mauling the ball for another try. The try was not converted, but Fuji extended its lead, 20-13.
The task now was not going to be easy. The Gaijin found themselves again quickly into opposition territory, retaining possession, we went back to playing controlled rugby, inching closer for a score. Around the 70th minute, with good distribution of the ball through the backs, So Nagashima on the near sideline ran towards the try line, but a metre away from the try line, he was pushed out of bounds. The Gaijin attack was once again contained. The Gaijin kept on attack, but was unable to score. Eventually Fuji Club gained some ground and used their superior mauling to cross the line for another try, and with 5 minutes left in regulation, sealed the game. The score was now, Fuji 25, Gaijin 13. However, this still did not prove to be the end as just before the final whistle went, our opposition once again, mercilessly mauled over for one last try. The final whistle went to signal the end of regulation. The Fuji Club had defeated the tired and disappointed Gaijin by a score of 30-13.
There were not too many positives for the Gaijin. They had been outplayed by a team that they had defeated twice in the past year, the second one an easy victory for the Gaijin. One might wonder if the Gaijin went into the game overconfident. The forwards had no answer to the well-rehearsed rolling mauls that Fuji Club relied on for gaining ground. Their lack of ability to adapt mid-match was a bit of a worry. Also, Apisai Bati and Riki Pitter, who were later given the Goat Of the Game Award, dropped a lot of ball or were guilty of poor handling in the centers which made it hard for the Gaijin to put attacking moves together.
Doubtless many lessons were learnt from this match, there is much work to be done before our next match. The Tokyo Cup is now essentially a knockout tournament for the Gaijin, and that is the way in which the Gaijin will approach each match. The cloudy weather summed up the day for the Gaijin.
SCORE: Fuji Club 30 v TGRFC 13 ( T. McEwen 1, R. Pitter 1 tries, M. Downer 0/2 conversions, 1/1 penalty goals)
Man of the Match: Alaister Nimmo
Goat of the Match: Apisai Bati & Riki Pitter
1. Justin Scoobie Mynar (USA)
2. Chris Fearon (New Zealand)
3. Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)
4. Murray Clarke (New Zealand)
5. Sean O`Donoghue (Ireland)
6. Dave Kelver (USA)
7. Garrett Washington (USA)
8. Dan Salter (England)
9. Alaister Nimmo (England)
10. Matt Downer (New Zealand)
11. Andy Ballard (England)
12. Apisai Bati (Fiji)
13. Riki Pitter (France)
14. Ken Kondo (Japan)
15. Tucker McEwen (USA)
16. Garren Dalrymple (Scotland)
17. Mauro Sauco (Argentina)
18. Will Thompson (Australia)
19. So Nagashima (Japan)
20. Lawrence Hii (Australia)
21. Yoshihiro Sato (Japan)