Sunday the 7th of March dawned frigid and wet, and with no sign of improvement forecast, the Gaijin realized that later in the day, they would not only be battling one of their toughest rivals in YCAC, but in all likelihood, be battling the elements as well.
Given all the rain of the previous 24 hours, any grass field would surely have been submerged and been cause for a cancellation, but arriving at the ground around 12pm, we found YCAC’s astro turf surface to be still in good nick despite the persistent precipitation.
The battle commenced at 1:45pm, with 30 minute halves being announced at the toss by the YCAC captain just prior to kickoff. What ensued was a hard-fought, fair fight, which was ultimately won by the might of the YCAC forward pack. Playing perfect 10 man, wet weather rugby, the YCAC forwards ground down the Gaijin and made good use of the booming boot of their number 10. The YCAC, with the wind at their backs, took an early lead converting two of their three early penalties for ruck infringements. Although the Gaijin took the lead briefly after scoring a converted try to make the score 7-6, chances to attack were as rare as hen’s teeth, and most of the game was spent trying to halt the YCAC forward rumbles. YCAC crashed over from a forward rumble to take the lead back before halftime (11-7).
The YCAC increased their lead midway through the second half after some good forward work from a quick lineout about 15 meters out from the Gaijin line. Joe Fisher, ex-captain of the Gaijin, got up strutting like a rooster from the bottom of the pack. I guess it was his first try against his old team.
In the end, the score line was an accurate reflection of the game with YCAC fully deserving their victory. The Gaijin could certainly take some pride in their performance though, battling hard for the full game and throwing everything they could at the opposition but ultimately lacking the firepower to make any significant inroads into YCAC territory.
Mention must also be made of the referee who made some puzzling and clearly erroneous rulings and refused to give any explanation whatsoever to back-up his decisions. It must be said that these decisions most definitely did not have any affect on the outcome of the game, but they were cause for much bemusement (and concern for the progression of Japanese rugby if this chap is in fact the number 3 referee in the country as someone suggested!). Superciliously brushing of any attempts to extract reasons for his decisions with the flick of a finger, the officious officiator seemed to be on a power trip to turn rugby into a non-contact sport when he penalized both teams for perfectly legal but hard tackles during the course of the game. On one occasion the referee ordered a kick retaken after someone (a Basque terrorist?) in the crowd screamed (yodeled?) like a banshee as the kick was taken. (Editor’s note: I have never seen this in all my years of rugby: A referee punishing a side for something that comes from the crowd, even if it is a supporter). I hope this doesn’t happen during the World Cup or we could be at the ground forever. Luckily for the Gaijin the penalty attempt was missed a second time.
Standout performers for the Gaijin were No. 8 Hiroyuki Ikeguchi, who battled hard all day, and fleetfooted fullback Mike Ryan, who was threatening whenever he go the ball in his hands.
Score: YCAC 18 ( 2 tries, 1/2 conversions, 2/3 penalties) TGRFC 7 ( R. O’ Shea 1 try, M. Downer 1/1 conversion)
Man of the Match: Hiroyuki Ikeguchi and Mike Ryan
1. Kitahara (Japan)
2. Tomo Togo (Japan)
3. Rob Poulton (England)
4. Richard O’Shea (Wales)
5. Will Thompson (Australia)
6. Stephen Dods (NZ)
7. Toby Gallagher (Ireland)
8. Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (Japan)
9. Rory Brown (South Africa)
10. Matt Downer © (NZ)
11. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
12. Andy Ballard (Engalnd)
13. Joe Nawaquavanua(Fiji)
14. Ikuo Fukuda (Japan)
15. Mike Ryan (NZ)
Replacements: Chris Lucas (Australia), Murray Clarke (NZ), Joffa Harris (Australia), Apisai Bati (Fiji), Semi Leiene (Fiji), Daisuke Ikegami (Japan)
Other reserves: Warren Adamson (South Africa), Mark Scott (USA), Dave Kelver (USA), Junnosuke
Nakamura (Japan), Jo Iwasaki (Japan), Yoshihiro Sato (Japan), Isaac Law (USA)