Dateline: 4th November, 2018
The Tokyo Gaijin RFC were looking forward to their last game of the year against Koryo RFC. They have had some close tussles over the last few years with the results fairly even. As one of the premier teams in Tokyo, Koryo are a good barometer in measuring your teams standing and ability. This game would also decide standings on the ladder. Thus far in the Shuto League for 2018 Koryo have been undefeated with the Gaijin suffering a surprise loss to Doctors RFC. With a win there was the possibility of the Tokyo Gaijin RFC taking top spot, depending on other results (the Gaijin still have a rained out game to play) and for and against. (Interesting note: Koryo players all have Korean ancestry)
The game kicked off at 3pm at the Inagi Stadium. The Gaijin had a full squad and a few new players warming the bench for the fixture.
Three minutes into the game Chris O’Sullivan made the first break of the game. After making the break just inside his own 22 meter line he ran 40 meters down the left side of the field, beating the fullback with a nice dummy. The defending winger was still to be beaten but O’Sullivan managed to pass to winger Jermaine Bernard following in support. All he had to do was take the pass and race away to score untouched. Unfortunately the pass was dropped and first points of the game went begging. The pass wasn’t perfect but it still should have been taken.
The Gaijin continued to make all the running in the first 10 minutes while Koryo did all the kicking, often putting up high balls and a good chase to put the Gaijin back three under pressure. Halfback Leonardo Vantini and flanker Tom McCullough made good breaks but every time the Koryo scramble defense was up to the task and reeled them in.
A nice box kick from Vantini was followed through by Chris O’Sullivan, who smashed the ball taker. He managed to pop it up to his fullback but it was then kicked into touch on the full winning the Gaijin 30 metres.
As the game approached the 15 minute mark all the play had been between the two 22 metre lines. However, at the 15 minute mark, two penalties in a row to Koryo, followed by a cycle of 5 or 6 crash balls and rucks saw them edge closer and closer to the Gaijin line and finally go over the line in a pile of bodies. The conversion saw them take the first lead of the game at 7 v 0.
Dropped passes out wide were killing the Gaijin and the Koryo No.10 was a magician with the ball with his 12 and 13 helping out by running excellent lines and angles.
After what seemed like a long period inside the Gaijin 22 metre area, combined with some hard running, Koryo went in for try number 2 and the conversion made their lead14 v 0. By this stage players were getting quite testy with each other and the referee had called in the captains a couple of times and ordered them to talk to their players.
The score remained 14 v 0 until halftime. Despite Koryo having the ascendency and territorial advantage towards the end of the half the Gaijin remained confident that they could claw back the deficit. Thus far it was a case of Koryo simply taking their chances and the Gaijin blowing theirs.
The second half started positively with Jermaine Bernard winning the Gaijin kickoff back.
Five minutes into the second half flanker Tom McCullough made another good break. He passed the ball off to Leonardo Vantini ranging up in support, who then promoted it onto standoff Daisuke Teraoka. Teraoka was hit just as he got the ball. A face plantfollowed and Teraoka was taken off the field looking rather groggy. New boy KavanFitzpatrick came on into the centres and Chris O’Sullivan moved to standoff.
David McElhinney came on for Leonardo Vantini soon after and immediately started making some darting runs from the base of the ruck. It must be said that the Gaijin are lucky to have two quality halfbacks at the moment.
More good breaks came from the Gaijin as they camped inside the Koryo half. Tom McCullough, Chris O’Sullivan and Glen Amos each made handy breaks but each time the last pass or scrambling defense snuffed out further opportunities
The Gaijin finally got the points they were looking for in the 26th minute of the half when David McIlhinney tapped the ball from a penalty on halfway and made it all the way to the 22 metre line with a zigzagging run before he was caught. Koryo were forced into giving away a ruck penalty and Louis Hamilton then quickly tapped again and with the Koryo defense in confusion he ran 22 metres to score under the posts only being tackled on the line. Yohei Iwamizu converted to make the score 14 v 7. Game on!
Some baffling decisions from the whistle blower followed. With 6 minutes left in the game Koryo kicked for touch from a penalty on halfway. It didn’t reach touch but Jermaine Bernard couldn’t take it cleanly and the ball went sideways then rolled forward. Yohei Iwamizu ran onto the ball from behind Bernard and set off downfield but was wrongly called offside by the referee. Koryo kicked for touch and set up a lineout 5 metres out from the Gaijin try line. Kosuke Yamamoto, who had just entered the game at prop, decided to join the maul when all of his team mates had decided not to contest, obviously unaware of what was going on. This caused Koryo to get a good shunt and after sucking in all the Gaijin forwards their No.6 broke off and raced through at yawning gap just off the maul to score. The conversion made the scoreline 21 v 7, which would be the final result.
The Gaijin had dominated territory and possession in the second half but excellent scramble defense from Koryo and some poor handling from the Gaijin had made it an even 7-all in points for both sides. A superior first half had got Koryo home.
Best for the Gaijin in the forwards were Tom McCullough and Nik Pavesic with the latter winning Koryo’s Man of the Match. McCullough made many breaks but due to good defense and poor options from his team mates none of those breaks led to points.
In the backs Chris O’Sullivan would have been my pick for MVP but Koryo’s choice was Leonardo Vantini who made many sniping runs and good cover tackles. O’Sullivan was the instigator of many of the Gaijin attacking moves and tackled well. Vantini and fellow halfback David McIlhinney were tenacious in both attack and defense. KouichiMorita was also superb in defense out wide
MVP : Nik Pavesic (Forwards), Leonardo Vantini (backs)
1. Akihito Kashiwaba(Japan)
2. Tomohiro Setoguchi (c) (Japan)
3. Tsunaki ‘Don’ Tanaka (Japan)
4. John Simpson (USA)
5. Glen Amos (England)
6. Nik Pavesic (Croatia)
7. Tom McCullough (England)
8. Takashi Tanikawa (Japan)
9. Leonardo Vantini (Italy)
10. Daisuke Teraoka (Japan)
11. Jermaine Bernard (England)
12. Chris O’Sullivan (Ireland)
13. Kouichi Morita (Japan)
14. Yohei Iwamizu (Japan)
15. Louie Hamilton (Ireland)
16. Kosuke Yamamoto (Japan)
17. Kaven Fitzpatrick (Ireland)
18. Andrew Mills (NZ)
19. Joffa Harris (Australia)
20. Sean Robinson (Ireland)
21. David McElhinney (Ireland)
22. Mino Abe (Italy)
23. Izawa Hanabusa (Japan)
Thank you to the other reserves who came along but did not get game time: Jared Schiefer. Torrey Benware, Wout Konings, Kenjiro Ito, Shotaro Dote, Masato Fujita, Joseph Manila