Dateline: 21st October, 2018
Venue: Yanokuchi Field
The third round of the 2018 Shuto League saw the Tokyo Gaijin RFC come up against Doctors RFC. Doctors surprised the Gaijin with a shock win in the 2017 League so the Gaijin knew not to take their opposition lightly. The problem for the Gaijin was a lack of able backs….obviously missing due to a 50% off cut & perm at a local Tokyo hairdressing salon. The Gaijin would have to start the game with 3 forwards in their backline and ended up with a 50 year old forward on the wing 20 minutes after kickoff when another back rushed off to the salon claiming he was not aware of the sale (Nah, he actually did get injured…but that is not to say he didn’t rush off for a rinse and cut as he was missing at games end).
The Gaijin started the game with 4 new players (3 starting and one of the bench). So before you read on be aware that the well-oiled Gaijin machine (cough, cough) was never going to run smoothly in this game. Usual forwards Glen Amos and Sean Robinson would be starting at centre and wing respectively. New forward Frank Fournier let it be known that he had played backs sometime in the past and was immediately thrust into the outside centre role. Another new boy, Hanabusa Izawa, would be coming off the bench to join the forwards if he was lucky, and no backs got injured. The Gaijin also had a brand new halves combination in halfback Leonardo ‘Da’ Vantini and standoff David McElhinney, who is a regular halfback himself and had never played standoff before. So, there was a mountain to climb to get the victory today. The team was still relatively confident of doing just that.
Doctors RFC kicked off with the wind at their back but immediately erred by putting the kickoff over the dead ball line. After the scrum on halfway the Gaijin spent most of the next 10 minutes stuck in their own half and eventually Doctors RFC were able to take advantage of this pressure by mauling a 5 metre lineout over the try line for the first points of the game. They failed with the conversion but had an early lead of 5 v 0.
The Gaijin produced the next bit of excitement in the game when a promising play started by a strong Jermaine Bernard run was enhanced with further ground-eating runs by Nikola Pavesic and Leonardo Vantini. Vantini then promoted the ball to the charging Joseph Vanualailai showing good support for a big lock. Unfortunately he spilt the ball in a tackle just inside the Doctors 22 metre line. Doctors almost made the Gaijin pay for that mistake when they kicked downfield from the following scrum and forced Gaijin fullback Louie Hamilton into major evasive action in the face of a handful of opponents. He was caught but managed to survive the ruck with minimal support and the Gaijin won a penalty. So a dicey situation was avoided – well done Louie!
In the 16th minute the Gaijin were marched 10 meters after backchat, showing their frustration with the ruck interpretations
About 20 minutes into the game winger Jermaine Bernard left the field with an eye issue after copping an elbow to the face. Another forward in Joffa Harris then joined the backline as a winger – something he hasn’t done for a good 15 years and even then it would have been an emergency.
The Gaijin finally got on the scoreboard. It came after a penalty allowed them to set up a line out on the left side 20 metres out from the Doctors line. The ball was swung wide and a couple of rucks later standoff David McElhinney put up a high kick towards the right corner. The Doctors winger attempted to take it overhead whilst running back over his own try line, but dropped it backwards. His fullback then tried to soccer the ball into touch off his foot but barely connected. Gaijin winger Sean Robinson was on the spot to dive on the loose ball and score. It was a comedy of errors and fortuitous for the Gaijin but you make your own luck. McElhinney failed with the conversion.
The 5 v 5 score line survived until halftime. It had been a tight tussle. The forwards were evenly matched and the Gaijin failed to get their usual dominance in the scrums. In the backs there was a lot of dropped ball, especially in the centres where the two locks/backrowers struggled to find a synergy. They would have to soldier on though as the bench was bereft of backs.
Doctors RFC were the first to score in the second half after a miscommunication between the Gaijin centres saw a high pass bounce sideways from Frank Fournier’s hands and straight into the hands of the Doctors’ centre who raced 45 metres to score under the posts. The successful conversion made it 12 v 5 to Doctors RFC.
Doctors then increased their lead further. Three penalties in quick succession got them well into the Gaijin half and then some strong charges and recycling saw one of their forwards crash over the try line 10 metres to the left of the posts. The conversion was not successful but their lead was now 17 v 5.
The Gaijin then clawed back some of the deficit in the 53rd minute after a sustained period of attack. David McElhinney jinked past his opposite number and beat the cover defense to score under the posts. He then converted to bring the Gaijin with 5 with the score line now reading 17 v 12.
The next Gaijin try came after three or four minutes of attack inside Doctors’ 22 metre area. From a ruck on the right there was a long pass from Leonardo Vantini to David McElhinney and another long pass out to winger Joffa Harris. He drew his opposite winger then popped it to Louie Hamilton who was rounding him in support. Hamiltion narrowly won the race to the corner to score. The conversion by McIlhinney was waved away leaving the scores deadlocked at 17 v 17.
With four minutes left on the clock Doctors RFC managed to win a penalty for the Gaijin ball-carrier failing to release, near the 22 metre line and slightly left of centerfield. They decided to shoot at goal and were successful, setting up an exciting finish with a lead of 20 v 17.
The Gaijin attacked hard but were ultimately thwarted as time ran out and Doctors RFC had done it again – an upset 2 years in a row.
Doctors RFC had lost their two previous games in this year’s Shuto League so for the Gaijin to lose to one of the weaker teams was very disappointing. With all the changes to the backline though, it was hardly surprising. In the end it was just a penalty goal difference but the Gaijin had also gifted Doctors an intercept try off a dropped ball in the backs.
The ruck area was keenly contested with a lot of ruck penalties in the game and the referee was quite whistle-happy in this area. The Doctors forwards were strong and gained parity at the scrum and they also overshadowed the Gaijin at ruck time and won numerous pilfers and penalties for non- release of the ball.
Best for the Gaijin were Tom McCullough, Nikola Pavesic and Kouichi Morita. These three worked tirelessly in both attack and defense but needed more support from the rest of their forwards.
The backs failed to fire in this game but new boy David McElhinney had steered around his team from standoff very well for someone who was playing his first game for the club and who hadn’t played the position before. While he needs to work on the accuracy of his pass, his kicks in general play were testing for his opponents with some sneaky little grubbers behind the defense and good clearance kicks. Louie Hamilton at fullback for the first time also had a solid game defusing many sticky situations for the Gaijin at the back.
SCORE: DOCTORS RFC 20 (3 tries, 1/3 conversions, 1/1 penalties) TGRFC 17 (Sean Robinson 1, Tom McCullough 1, Louie Hamilton 1 tries; David McElhinney 1/3 conon-nversions)
MVP: Tom McCullough
1. Akihito Kashiwaba (Japan)
2. Tomohiro Setoguchi © (Japan)
3. Tsunaki ‘Don’ Tanaka (Japan)
4. Joseph Vanualailai (Fiji)
5. Nikola Pavesic (Croatia)
6. Tom McCullough (England)
7. Kouichi Morita (Japan)
8. Takashi Tanikawa (Japan)
9. Leonardo Vantini (Italy)
10. David McElhinney (Ireland)
11. Jermaine Bernard (England)
12. Glen Amos (England)
13. Frank Fournier (USA)
14, Sean Robinson (Ireland)
15. Louie Hamilton (Ireland)
Reserves: (16) Kosuke Yamamoto (Japan), (17) Natsuhiko Kunitomo (Japan), (18) Barry Lobendahn (Fiji), (19) Andrew Mills (New Zealand), (20) Hanabusa Izawa (Japan), (21) Mohammed ‘Win’ Irham (Indonesia), (22) Manul Udakumbura (Sri Lanka), (23) Joffa Harris (Australia), (24) Yoshihiro Sato (Japan)
Note: Unused reserves: (16) Kosuke Yamamoto (Japan), (17) Natsuhiko Kunitomo (Japan), (19) Andrew Mills (New Zealand), (21) Mohammed ‘Win’ Irham (Indonesia), (24) Yoshihiro Sato (Japan).