Where to start with this match. It was breathless. It was epic. It was war. This match had everything from yellow cards, red cards, blood, big hits and dramatic last moments.
First let us say a grateful thanks to the supporters and bench for coming out to support the boys in what was a brilliant day on the pitch. A very special thank you to John’s friend, Asako Takeo, who strapped the boys before the match and was a fantastic support staff for the injured and also lending a hand to the Crusaders.
It was a weekend set for epic showdowns. On the same weekend that Ireland stopped England in their streak, France and Wales went to 99 minutes of rugby and Vern Cotter was sent off victorious, the Gaijin derby was ready to kick off.
The game itself was one for the ages and couldn’t have been better written than it actually played out. Even though the Gaijin were below average in receiving the kick offs, especially the first kick off, which gave the Crusaders early advantage. The ensuing rucks and collisions were the baseline for the game as some massive hits went in, especially one that brought Sam down and knocked the wind out of him early. This was the beginning of war.
Even though Sam went down, the following rucks were constructed well and Gaijin made their way up the field and the ball went loose for the Gaijin to cross over the line through Shin breaking wide and running around the opposition to score. This gave the Gaijin and early 7-nil lead with the successful conversion and the whole thing started again.
Yet again the Gaijin bundled the kick off collection but managed to secure the ball and make a break down the line. The inside pass was deliberately knocked by the Crusaders which earned a yellow card. This gave the Gaijin a man advantage but they couldn’t capitalize. Even though Gaijin were deep in the Crusaders’ territory, the pressure couldn’t be converted into points. Quick taps from Sota gave the Gaijin some forward momentum but through silly mistakes and slow support, the Crusaders were able to exit each time, pushing Gaijin back and making them reset.
Every time that Gaijin were in a promising position, white line fever or Crusaders’ resilience stopped an inevitable score. A few times Gaijin were called up for ruck infringements and soft support. At one point Gaijin were in the open and required accurate passing and catching which let them down. These handling skills at pace were becoming a consistent problem but Crusaders were putting on the pressure and making the Gaijin second guess some of their runs out wide.
Even though there was some sloppy play from Gaijin, there were some passages of brilliance and quick thinking with quick taps and pressure. Eventually the dam walls broke with a ruck formed on the Crusaders’ line and Mau crashing over from a sleek pop pass. The score was stretched to 14-nil lead.
The Gaijin let their guard down from a dropped kick off receive and Crusaders pounced quickly and within 30 seconds were over the line under the posts to open their account 14-5. They missed a sitter of a conversion but with that try, they grew in confidence and were ebbing into the mental lead. Even though there was a stoppage with the Crusaders’ wing going down with a knee injury, the game was still on a knife’s edge as half time came to a close. The Gaijin were in the lead by 14-5 but it wasn’t a comfortable lead and one that was within striking distance.
The line outs were sloppy from both teams but the supporting players managed to clean up any loose ball and this was something addressed at half time by the Gaijin. The words were of encouragement and asking the boys to continue what they were doing with big runs and spreading the ball wide.
With the kick off in the 2nd half, Crusaders secured their ball well but the ensuing rucks were eventually turned over. Gaijin again couldn’t make that count with silly penalties given away and Crusaders’ making easy ground up field with the penalty kick. Yet again the line out was messy from Crusaders and Gaijin secured the ball but it was easy coughed up by a prop trying to make a backhanded offload. This should never be attempted by men wearing numbers under 10 or not wearing a Fijian jersey.
The scrum was won by Crusaders but disrupted by a charging Takashi. The following scrum was won by the Gaijin and this set up a brilliant try with the ball first being spread wide to Hitoshi who beat a few men out wide but was eventually caught and set up the ball to be spread wide to the opposite wing for a well constructed try sending the Gaijin into the lead of 19-5.
Even though Crusaders were down by 14 points, this didn’t signal the end of the game. We could all feel that there was plenty left to play for and the intensity only increased.
Mau made a barnstorming run and caught the Crusaders offside but the penalty kicked failed to reach touch and Crusaders were on the charge. Sovita went reckless into the tackle and was warned by the ref, but play continued. The Gaijin were working hard to create space but poor handling out wide gave Crusaders the advantage again and the Gaijin began to drop their heads.
The Crusaders found acres of space down the blind side and made quick phases to cross the line, making it a nine-point game at 19-10.
Soon after Mau went high into a tackle, opening up a Crusaders’ player and was shown a red card. This meant that Gaijin faced 20 minutes with 14 men. An already tough assignment made even more difficult. Especially when Gaijin turned down a penalty kick option and went for quick taps and runs.
Crusaders seemed to unite over the Gaijin sending off and were running hard and straight and were making Gaijin scramble for their lives. All the scrambling didn’t help as the Gaijin were found short in the back line and Crusaders got the try that gave them the lead and went into the last 5 minutes with a lead of 19-22.
The nail biting ending was not over. The boys on the field were beaten, bruised and bloodied but continued to dig in deep.
Even though Gaijin made it across the line and tried to dot the ball closer to the posts, the referee ruled on the fact that they crossed the dead ball line. There was mass confusion with the officials as they couldn’t decide where the dead ball line was even though there were cones set out beyond the turf. This denied the Gaijin the try that would have taken the lead. The Crusaders were awarded the 22m drop out but Gaijin got a stroke of luck as they pressed hard, kicked up field, chased hard and got some space in the corner with Sam crashing over in the corner. Tomo was the next casualty with a nasty cut above the eye offering more blood to the rugby gods. He was subbed off for the already subbed Donny.
1 minute to go. 26-22 in the lead. Under pressure.
At this point I was too nervous and involved in the game to write anymore notes but the memory of the last few minutes will stick. The last line out of the game was won by Crusaders and they barged up field but it seemed that each time a ruck was formed the Gaijin were blown for offside. Crusaders couldn’t kick out as this would signal the end of the game, so they kept tapping and going, getting to Gaijin 22m line. The boys still hung on until the ball was caught at the bottom of the ruck and couldn’t come out. Scrum awarded. End of the game.
Gaijin and Crusaders were engaged in a battle. A game that encompasses what rugby is about. It was a real battle. A real game. Both teams could rise as proud players and teams. But only one winner in the end.
Tokyo Gaijin crowned CWC 2017 champions after a brutal affair.
Personally I haven’t seen a game like that in the 8 years of being at the club. It was one of the best. Mistakes made by both teams, but the intensity, the brutality and the elegant violence was what we play for.
Cup Winners Cup Final
Date: 19th March 2017
Venue: Edogawa Stadium
Kick Off: 14:30
Man of the Match: Shin Yokoyama (Opposition and TGRFC)
1 – Gorka Gerediaga (v/c)
2 – Tomo Setoguchi (c) (sub: “Donny” Tanaka)
3 – “Donny” Tanaka (sub: Tommy Nasuno)
4 – Liam Ramshaw (sub: Baz Lobendahn)
5 – John Simpson
6 – Mauola Sasulu
7 – Paul Bertier
8 – Takashi Tanikawa
9 – Sota Kaneko
10 – Alex Auld (v/c) (sub: Sovita Tui)
11 – Hitoshi Chihara (sub: Hideki Man)
12 – Sam De Roeck
13 – Dan Benson (sub: Tachi Roy)
14 – Ken Yokoyama
15 – Shin Yokoyama
16 – Tommy Nasuno
17 – Natsuhiko Kunitomo
18 – Baz Lobendahn
19 – Tachi Roy
20 – Hideki Man
21 – Toma Ballan
22 – Sovita Tui
23 – Shinya Akiba
Tries: Shin Yokoyama (1); Mauola Sasulu (1); Ken Yokoyama (1); Sam De Roeck (1)
Conversions: Shin Yokoyama (3/4)