Dateline: January 21st, 2018
January 21st was to mark the date to decide the 2017 autumn season Shuto League Champions. The result would normally have been decided in late 2017 but the typhoon season resulted in two weekends of rained out games and a delay in the decider.
The two teams to duel out for the championships were Tokyo Gaijin RFC, who had gone through the season undefeated thus far, and Koryo RFC, the 2016 champions. The two teams had met twice already in 2017. The first was a big 53 v 7 win to Koryo in the Tokyo Cup in the spring season but the TGRFC turned the table in the earlier rounds of the 2017 Shuto season winning 28 v 21.
The TGRFC were a different team from the one that had beaten Koryo in the earlier rounds with some key backs missing in 2017 MVP Travis Drury, Chris Musgrave and Nafetalai Helu (having returned to NZ). In their place were new boys John Akiba, Jay Akuma and Will Wedgewood (visiting from Ireland). Still, hopes were high of bringing home some silverware to add to the 2017 Cup Winners Cup and the 2017 Manila 10’s Shield Champions trophy.
Koryo RFC kicked off and it was plain to see that the Gaijin were going through one of their notoriously bad starts. There were big holes in their defensive line and Koryo camped in their half for the first 15 minutes. Any time the Gaijin got into the Koryo half they would soon find themselves back in their own half due to an astute kicking game from Koryo.
Within those first 15 minutes Koryo had a 10 v 0 lead through weight of possession and territory, and too many missed tackles from the Gaijin. Both tries went unconverted but one could be excused for thinking that this game was going to be a flogging against the TGRFC. They hadn’t started to play yet!
The Gaijin then began to knuckle down and close the gaps and make their tackles. Perhaps it was after some fire and aggression from Paddy Watson that fired them up? Perhaps it was Alex Auldy joining the game after Yoshitsugu Morita had to leave the field (to go to work!?). Perhaps it was their scrum demolishing the Koryo scrum to earn a penalty? Perhaps it was the smell of sour beer? Whatever it was, the Gaijin clawed their way back into the game. A yellow card to a Koryo player for a tip tackle on Glen Amos certainly helped.
It took almost 30 minutes for the Gaijin to score but they were the next to do so. Some quick hands from a bunch of forwards in the back line saw Joffa Harris make a break. As he drew the fullback he passed the ball out to Jay Azuma amongst three backs screaming for the ball in support. Azuma raced across the line untouched about ten metres in from touch. Watson failed with the conversion but the 10 v 5 score line held until halftime and made the match set for an exciting spectacle in the second half.
The Gaijin were quietly confident at halftime that they had turned the corner and a big second half could get them home. Their scrum had been dominant and the large gaps in their defensive wall that appeared in the first half were being tightened. There was also more aggression in both their charges and in their defense. They also knew they had a strong bench to call on as players tired.
The Gaijin drew even when Paddy Watson made a break and put Alex Auldy in a gap. As the defense closed in Auldy grubbered into the corner and team mate John Akiba was first to the ball. He picked it up and drew the full back and passed to Jay Azuma who scored in the corner, his second try of the day. Watson failed with the wide conversion. Score: 10 v 10.
The Gaijin then pulled ahead on the scoreboard while Koryo were down to 14 men after another yellow card for foul play. From a scrum about 7 metres out from Koryo’s line Gaijin No. 8 Mauola Sasulu picked off the back and ran blind. He handed off a few opponents then got a great offload around the back of a defender to get it to winger Will Wedgewood who would get it down in the corner. The wide conversion once again proved beyond Paddy Watson. Score: 15 v 10 to the TGRFC.
The Gaijin then put themselves in front by more than a converted try when they earned a penalty 30 meters out in front of the posts and Paddy Watson stepped up to ram it home. Score: 18 v 10 to the Gaijin.
A popped pass from Will Wedgewood, after he was brought down in a tackle, to Paddy Watson saw Watson streak up the left wing followed closely by the defense. They never gained on him though and he managed to run 55 meters and curve in a little to score about 10 meters in from touch. He failed with his own conversion but the game was pretty much out of reach at this stage with barely 5 minutes left. Score: 23 v 10 to the Gaijin,
Koryo RFC never gave up though and kept hammering away and managed to score one final try under the posts. After the conversion the referee blew his whistle for full time and there were scenes of jubilation among the Gaijin players as they had won the decider 23 v 17 against top-quality opposition which they had surprisingly beaten two times during the autumn season. They had taken out the competition undefeated, a rare feat.
In the forwards Mauola Sasulu was the standout for the Gaijin. Overall, the forwards were a bit slow to the breakdown and needed to be tighter in defense, but the scrum was terrific, shunting the Koryo forwards back all day.
In the backs it was hard to single anybody out. Paddy Watson led the boys well from standoff and showed good aggression in both attack and defense. As the game wore on John Akiba and Jay Azuma made more and more breaks. Will Wedgewood also proved to be a valuable addition on the wing and will be welcomed back to the Gaijin with open arms on any future visits to the land of the rising sun.
It was Irishman Peter Calvert’s last game for the club. We wish him and his friend Will Wedgewood all the best and hope to see them back wearing Gaijin clors some time down the track.
Man of the Match : Mauola Sasulu (picked by opposition); Joffa Harris (picked by TGRFC)
Goat of the Match : Tsunaki ‘Don’ Tanaka (for being quite late to such an important game) + The two Koryo players who got yellow cards.
SCORE: TGRFC 23 (Jay Azuma 2, Will Wedgewood 1, Paddy Watson 1, tries; P. Watson 0/4 conversions; 1/1 penalties) Koryo RFC 17 (3 tries; 1/3 conversions)
1. Akihito Kashiwaba (Japan)
2. Tomohiro Setoguchi (c) (Japan)
3. Tsunaki ‘Don’ Tanaka (Japan)
4. Joffa Harris (Australia)
5. Glen Amos (England)
6. Yoshitsugu Morita (Japan)
7. Shinpei Yamaguchi (Japan)
8. Mauola Sasulu (Samoa)
9. Sota Kaneko (Japan)
10. Paddy Watson (Canada)
11. Will Wedgewood (Ireland)
12. Jay Azuma (Trinidad)
13. John Akiba (USA)
14. Futoshi Karino (Japan)
15. Kenta Karino (Japan)
16. Pater Calvert (Ireland)
17. Tommy Nasuno (Japan)
18. Natsu Kunitomo (Japan)
19. Alex Auldy (vc) (NZ)
20. Liam Ramshaw (England)
21. Baz Lobendahn (Fiji)
22. Sean Robinson (Ireland)
23. Yoshihiro Sato (Japan)
24. Andrew Mills (NZ)