Dateline: October 1st, 2017
In the third round of the Shuto League 2017, the Tokyo Gaijin RFC got a measure of revenge on Koryo RFC after being walloped by them to the tune of 53 v 7 earlier this year in the Tokyo Cup. This time the Gaijin would turn the tables and sneak a 26 v 21 win.
With a kickoff at 1pm on a beautiful, sunny, autumn afternoon at Inagi Chuo Koen Ground the Gaijin had assembled an almost full-strength strong squad though they were missing key players Takashi Tanikawa (No.8) and Sovita Tui (No. 12) but had handy replacements in new boys Nate Igel and Nafetalai Helu. It is interesting to note that they also had 12 nationalities in attendance.
Koryo RFC started the game in ominous fashion, with the Gaijin worryingly falling off tackles early and giving away a few penalties. And the good start that the Gaijin were hoping for took a further nosedive when new boy Nate Igel earned a ten-minute spell on the naughty chair for a tip tackle barely 3 minutes into the game.
Not long after, Koryo scored in the right corner after good charges by their forwards and crisp passing amongst their backs. The conversion from way out on the right and almost back near the half way line was a ripper and Koryo had the start the Gaijin were hoping for and out to an early 7 v 0 lead.
The Gaijin RFC managed to hold Koryo out for the next 10 minutes with good defense, despite Koryo hammering at the line and having most of the ball and all of the territory. Nate Igel re-entered the game at this stage and the Gaijin were back to 15 men. This seemed to ease the pressure a little and soon after, another new boy in Tongan center Nafetalai Helu, managed to hot-step his way through the backline defense and then a powerful run by his center partner Chris Musgrave got the Gaijin into Koryo’s half for the first time. But then dropped ball and a kick downfield by Koryo saw the Gaijin again defending in their 22 meter area for the next period of time. A change in the game’s momentum occurred soon after when Koryo received a penalty and called a scrum. The Gaijin put on a good shove and won a penalty from that scrum and this seemed to be the catalyst to a new belief in themselves.
After a few scrums just outside the Koryo 22 a switch move between Paddy Watson and Chris Musgrave had the defense confused and then the ball was sent wide to Yuki Neill, who broke through a tackle to score, rounding under the posts. Watson converted to even the scores at 7 v 7. Game on!
The Gaijin kept the momentum swing going when forwards Liam Ramshaw and Nik Pavesic made strong charges to get them back into Koryo’s half. Dominant rucks then allowed the backs good front foot ball and nice, wide passes saw the ball go through Watson, to Musgrave, to Helu and then onto Yuki Neill who broke the last tackle and went over for his second try in less than 10 minutes out on the far left. Watson couldn’t convert but the Gaijin were now in front despite the territorial advantage held by Koryo. Score: TGRFC 12 v 7 Koryo RFC.
Things took a sour turn though when the Gaijin committed a basic error by letting the kickoff bounce as everyone stood around and watched it. Koryo were first to the ball and soon after they were crossing for their second try. With the successful conversion they had taken back the lead at 14 v 12.
Soon after, a loose Gaijin ruck enabled Koryo to kick through the loose ball but Nic Pavesic managed to beat the chasers and spun the ball out to Chris Musgrave, who ghosted through a hole and ran 30 meters. He was tackled by the fullback but managed to pop the ball up in the tackle to Nafetalai Helu, who put the foot down and raced the last 30 meters to score. The lead had changed again and with Watson’s conversion the Gaijin were back in front at 19 v 14.
At halftime the Gaijin were quietly confident that if they kept playing the same way then victory could be theirs. Despite a big bench of reserves no changes were made to keep the momentum going. They also needed to take the referee out of the equation as things didn’t seem to be entirely fair. Chris Musgrave had been tipped in a tackle exactly like Nate Igel had done in those first few minutes but the referee decided that just a penalty and warning were enough. Consistency was hard to find!
Like the first half, the second half started badly for the Gaijin when Paddy Watson put the kickoff out on the full. Luckily they were not forced to pay for the mistake. It was a helter-skelter start to the second half, with both sides showing plenty of attacking intent and an ability to get down the other end of the field quickly.
Travis Drury, last week’s Man of the Match, produced the next bit of exciting play, when he found some space on the left flank and chipped ahead. He was narrowly beaten to the ball but wrapped up his opponent and with the help of Hitoshi Chihara, just on the field, managed to win a penalty. A loose ruck soon after (due to Koryo bridging in my (biased?) eyes) saw the ball come free and it was spun out to the Koryo winger who made a break down the same left flank (his right). But who was there to come across and pull him into touch – Yes, that man Travis Drury.
Soon after hard-working lock Liam Ramshaw was off with a shoulder stinger and big bad Baz Lobendahn joined the game. Later Baz would pull off a big hit on the Koryo No.7 that could be felt in the stand and required the Koryo flanker to leave the game. Alex Auld soon joined him as a locking partner and relished the move into the forwards making some good breaks and rucking aggressively.
The next near-scoring chance came when the Gaijin had a penalty advantage and Paddy Watson went for a drop goal. It narrowly missed and the Gaijin came back for the penalty.
A few minutes later after a period of concerted attacking, Hitoshi Chihara dummied through a gap and went over to score, and improved the position closer to the posts. Watson converted and the Gaijin had the first decent lead of the game at 26 v 14.
Koryo would come back though and after some committed ruck work one of their props came off the side of a ruck and smashed through two Gaijin forwards to plant the ball down. The conversion was successful leaving a nail-biting last 10 minutes with the score at 26 v 21 to the Gaijin.
The Gaijin then made some basic mistakes to the chagrin of their nervous supporters. The usually reliable hands of Nik Pavesic put down a bomb and Nate Igel knocked on as he barged his way through some defenders. Koryo couldn’t capitalize though and were responsible for some mistakes of their own. When Paddy Watson booted the ball into touch and the referee blew fulltime there was a sigh of relief and then euphoria followed.
It was a great afternoon of rugby, especially for the Gaijin who had got sweet revenge on Koryo and now had three from three in their 2017 Shuto League campaign. Supporters got to see some classy rugby and some big hits. The Koryo backline was a joy to watch with their classy running and crisp passing at depth. The Gaijin didn’t have the same sharpness but made up for that with some power running in their backs. Chris Musgrave and Yuki Neill constantly broke the first tackle and took a lot of stopping while Nafetalai Helu provided the twinkle toes and golden step. Musgrave was a weapon in defense too.
In the forwards, relatively small Shinpei Yamaguchi was a standout for the Gaijin. The loose forward was everywhere in defense, tackling everything that moved. He played like a man double his size. He was backed up well by fellow loosies Nic Pavesic and Nate Igel who were both very influential in the game.
Man of the Match: Shinpei Yamaguchi
Goat of the Match: Nate Igel (Yellow card)
SCORE : TGRFC 26 (Yuki Neill 2, Nafetalai Helu 1, Hitoshi Chihara 1 tries; Paddy Watson 3/4 conversions) Koryo 21 (3 tries, 3/3 conversions)
Tommy Nasuno (Japan)
Tomohiro Setoguchi (c) (Japan)
Tsunaki ‘Donny’ Tanaka (Japan)
Glen Amos (England)
Liam Ramshaw (England)
Nikola Pavesic (Croatia)
Shimpei Yamaguchi (Japan)
Nate Igel (USA)
Sota Kaneko (Japan)
Paddy Watson (Canada)
Daisuke Ikegami (Japan)
Chris Musgrave (Scotland)
Nafetalai Helu (Tonga)
Yuki Neil (NZ)
Travis Drury (Australia)
Peter Calvert (Ireland)
John Tora (Fiji)
Barry Lobendahn (Fiji)
Alex Auld (NZ)
Roberto Ferrari (Italy)*
Yuki Hattori (Japan)
Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
Toma Ballan (France)
Joffa Harris (Australia)*
Andrew Mills (NZ)*
Sean Robinson (Ireland)*
Romain Resse (France)*
Yoshihiro Sato (Japan)*
*Denotes unused reserves.