On the 6th of September the Tokyo Gaijin RFC (TGRFC) gathered in Akigase, near Nishi Urawa in Saitama for their first double-header in some time. A big squad of 34 guys answered the call to arms. First up was All Jin Jan, a strong team, and favorites to win the League. The Gaijin were keen for a measure of revenge as they had been demoted from Tokyo Cup 1st Division in the Spring season in a muddy 7v0 loss, while All Jin Jan had smashed Rocco East on the same day to gain promotion to 1st Division.
In the early minutes it looked fairly even, though the Gaijin surprisingly seemed to have the edge in fitness, and were playing with a lot of energy despite the late summer heat. Brendon Doherty was leading a good running game which saw the Gaijin string together some long plays and they had good numbers to the break down.
After Matt Downer had missed with an early penalty attempt, Doherty was the first to trouble the scorers when he jinked through the opposition back line after a few dominant rucks to score next to the posts. Matt Downer was successful with the conversion to put the Gaijin in the lead at 7v0.
This was to remain the score until half time. It had been a hard fought half with a lot of turnovers to the Gaijin courtesy of aggressive rucking from Paulo de Berriozabal and Toby Gallagher. De Berrriozabal tackled like a man possessed. Richard O`Shea had been very busy in the rucks and young Tommy ‘Gun’ Nasuno was everywhere. Chris Fearon had put in some awesome hits before Warren Adamson replaced him, due to damaged ribs. Murray Clarke had poached a few lineouts to give the Gaijin extra ball to attack with. They had used their extra size in open play to get some good drive forward and then spread it wide to their backs. At some stages the inter-passing and support play reminded some of the Fijian 7’s team. It had definitely been the Gaijin’s half but they knew they needed to keep up the same intensity as All Jin Jan were still well and truly in the match at only 7v0 down.
As the Gaijin began to tire in the heat they knew they needed to be the first team to score in the second half to give them a comfort zone. Greet pressure in defense set up the try they needed. All Jin Jan were pressured out wide and forced into an error. The stray pass was scooped up by Hitoshi Chihara near the halfway line and he showed good speed to race to the line and score under the posts after a nice jink to beat a chasing defender. Downer had no problem with the conversion and made the score 14v0 to the TGRFC.
The next try was also a 50 metre effort and also to a Gaijin backline member. But the lead up work can be credited to the Gaijin loose forwards who created a turnover and a quick ball opportunity for their backs. Tommy ‘Gun’ Nasuno quickly fed the ball to Downer who passed it on to Ikuo Fukuda. Fukuda took the ball at the 40-metre mark and came to the fullback with Toby Gallagher lurking out wide in support. Fukuda threw one of the best ‘dummies’ of the year, sold the fullback, and was able to veer infield and score under the black dot. Downer once again added the extras to put the Gaijin well ahead at 21v0.
At this stage the Gaijin could be excused for taking their hand off the ‘intensity’ button but it was exhaustion rather than ‘taking it easy’ that was beginning to creep into their game. An infusion of bench players and some good tactical kicking from Downer and Doherty was implemented to push the opposition back. Tommy ‘Gun’ Nasuno was replaced when he blew out his rugby boots (He later claimed that he was running so fast they just blew apart!). Erin Hughes came on for an unfit looking Muray Clarke and Chris Lucas for Takayuki Kitajima. Matt Downer was replaced late in the half, suffering from jetlag, having just returned from the US the evening before.
All Jin Jan did eventually get on the scoreboard but it was too late in the game to worry the TGRFC. Their left side wingman, who looked dangerous every time he got the ball, stepped his way through about four would-be tacklers to score under the posts to leave his kicker an easy conversion. Final score: 21v7 to the Gaijin.
It was a comprehensive win and a great way to start the 2009 Shuto League. Traditionally slow starters, the Gaijin had thrown away the form guide and had a lot of energy from the start. They had poached a few of their opposition’s lineouts and had a very solid scrum. The front row of Kitajima, Nasuno and Fearon had been dominant. De Berriozabal was rewarded with Man of the Match for his work at the breakdown and his non-stop tackling. Gallagher also tackled himself to a standstill. The defense of the back line was solid with a number of big hits from the center pairing. Brendon Doherty, who had a solid all round game, was actually given Man of the Match by All Jin Jan. We always expect nothing short of brilliant from Doherty and gave the Official Man of the Match Award to de Berriozabal.
This was Tommy ‘Gun’ Nasuno`s last game until next Spring. We wish him luck with his studies at Exeter University.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Paulo de Berriozabal
SCORE: TGRFC 21 (B. Doherty 1, H. Chihara 1, I. Fukuda 1 tries, M. Downer 3/3 conversions, 0/1 penalties) All Jin Jan 7 (1 try, 1 conversion)
‘A’ TEAM :
1. Chris Fearon (NZ)
2. Tommy Nasuno (Japan)
3. Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)
4. Murray Clarke © (NZ)
5. Richard O`Shea (Wales)
6. Apisai Bati (Fiji)
7. Toby Gallagher (Ireland)
8. Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)
9. Alaister Nimmo (England)
10. Brendon O`Doherty (Australia)
11. Rory Brown (South Africa)
12. Matt Downer (vc) (NZ)
13. Jo Iwasaki (Japan)
14. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
15. Blake Walker (NZ)
Reserves: Chris Lucas (Australia); Ikuo Fukuda (Japan); Will Thompson (Australia); Warren Adamson (South Africa); Erin Hughes (USA), Daisuke Ikeda (Japan)
Second game: TGRFC ‘B’ v Dandelions
Immediately after the All Jin Jan game the Gaijin ‘B’ side was to play the Dandelions. With the Gaijin having a big squad at the moment this game was organized to give the Gaijin ‘B’ squad, or the less experienced Rugby players, more game time. The Dandelions are a Shuto League 2nd Division team playing in an emerald green strip similar to Ireland's. Asked why they called themselves the Dandelions, it was explained that the Dandelion is the most hardy of all flowers yet retains a grace and beauty of it's own; similar to the type of rugby the team wants to play.
This game was to mark the long awaited return of Jesse Takahashi, out for over 2 years from a botched ankle operation. The Gaijin were also welcoming two new players: Matt Stride and Ben Turner. Dave Kelver was given his first appointment as Captain.
The Gaijin kicked off and Dandelions after an initial burst up the middle, kicked it back and out on the full. Not a good start for the Dandelions! An early Matt Stride bomb was re-gathered by Daisuke Ikeda and this put the Gaijin on the front foot, as they slammed into the next few rucks. Unfortunately all the good work was undone when the Dandelions snaffled a turnover and kicked the ball downfield and into touch at the Gaijin 22 meter mark. Dave Kelver made easy work of the line out and another big clearing kick by Stride was to follow. The Dandelions fullback misread the kick and the ball went to ground and then bounced off him. Charles Joffre was Johnny-on-the-spot and re-gathered the ball for the Gaijin but he was taken in a good tackle before he could get up some speed. This too-ing and thro-ing continued for the next 20 minutes as both teams were keen to kick out of their territory. With no team establishing dominance the game was played between the two 22's for a large part of the first half.
At the 20-minute mark Dan Salter was brought after taking a big knock. Having featured in the first match, the heat and pace of the game was obviously affecting the big fella and a smack to the noggin took it's toll.
The first real scoring chance came to the Gaijin from a lineout 5 meters out from the opposition’s try line. Kelver easily snaffled the ball but the maul splintered and Gaz Dalrymple found himself circling back towards the try line but unfortunately he was taken across the sideline. The Dandelions relieved the pressure by winning the lineout, then mauling for a little to attract lazy defenders, then clearing for touch with a kick. There continued to be good strong rucking but equally good defending from both sides forcing intercepts or breakdowns after 3 or 4 phases.
It was to be Rob Poulton who provided the crowd with the first real excitement when he came up from a scrum with knees in the opposition prop and a few punches. No one is really sure why it came about but after some gesturing from Erin Hughes and Gaz Dalrymple things calmed down and the referee got on with the game.
Soon after the Gaijin were penalized for a ruck infringement and immediately pinged again for not being 10 meters back. The Dandelions now had a lineout 10 meters from the Gaijin tryline. After winning their ball they produced a strong maul and forced the Gaijin into yet another ruck infringement. But once again good defense held the Dandelions out and forced a knock on and the Gaijin had survived their first real test of the half. Finally a clearing kick from Apisai Bati, who had replaced the ‘out of gas’ Matt Stride, from the following scrum relieved some of the pressure.
Bati made two good half-breaks soon after but both times a poor pass or bad handling let him down. In fact a further poor Bati pass to Yoz Togo just inside the Dandelions half went to ground and was swooped on by the Dandelions. One of their locks made a good run down the left flank. As the last line of defense in Ben Turner tackled him, he managed to pop up the ball from the ground to his trailing winger who raced away to score down the left wing. As the kicker failed with the conversion the referee blew the whistle for half time. Halftime score: 5v0 to the Dandelions.
It had been a tough gritty half with no quarter given. Rob Poulton and Dave Kelver had led the Gaijin forwards. Poulton had made some valuable yards with his charges (when he wasn’t walking!) and Kelver was playing a captain’s knock by leading by example. In the backs Matt Stride had marshaled his troops well and was causing the opposition plenty of headaches with his raking kicks. Another new guy, Ben Turner, was long striding and elusive at the back. The Gaijin needed to score first in the second half to get back in the game.
The first break of the second half came from Daisuke Ikeda but he had to wait so long for his support to catch up to him that things did not look promising. As Ikeda came to the fullback his pass didn’t quite make it to his support, who was a long time coming. Players were obviously starting to tire so on came the reserves. Paulo De Berriozabal, backing up from a full ‘A’ team game, came on at flank, Rory Brown came on at fullback to replace Ben Turner, and Ikuo Fukuda came on to replace Charles Joffre.
Brown was immediately in the play as he took a kick, stepped the first defender, ran 20 meters down the blind and chipped ahead. The kick was well covered though. Brown, however, instigated the next move, which proved to be far more successful. Inside his own 22 meters he put in a big kick downfield, which was allowed to bounce. The Dandelions winger then stuffed his kick by kicking it straight at Yusuke Kobayashi’s legs. Kobayashi re-gathered and flicked it onto a rampaging Poulton. He skittled the first two defenders and then threw a basketball pass to Yoz Togo, despite the attention of two more defenders. Togo passed it onto Daisuke Ikeda then it went onto Ikuo Fukuda who beat the last defender’s weak tackle to score under the posts (in exactly the same position he had scored in the previous game). Rory Brown converted to finally give the Gaijin something to cheer about. Score: 7v5 to the TGRFC.
Soon after Matt Stride was back on after a little R&R. He was soon in the action with a huge clearance kick to relieve pressure from his own try line. The Dandelion’s right side winger had trouble with the bounce, looked up at the oncoming defense as he grabbed at the ball, and knocked it on. A 60-meter gain to the Gaijin! From this play Ikuo Fukuda went close to the line but spilt the ball. He may have been under the posts again for the third time today, but he still had a defender to beat. I guess we’ll never know!
The Gaijin received a penalty a few minutes later for offside at the ruck after two charges in a row by Poulton. Matt Stride stepped up to take the shot at goal. As he came in to kick it the Dandelions players tried to charge it down. Everyone knows that you can’t charge down a penalty! The referee was just about to penalize them and give Stride another shot when he realized that the ball had still gone over. Result: 10v5 to the Gaijin.
The Gaijin were to have one last crack at the Dandelion’s line. From a 5 meter scrum that screwed slightly, flanker Gaz Dalrymple charged at the line, but was taken across the sideline (again!) by the Dandelion’s defense. From the ensuing lineout the Dandelion’s backs threw it wide and had soon out skirted the defense. Dave Kelver, who had followed the action on an angle from the lineout, made a great cover tackle to take the left-winger into touch 50 meters up field. He had saved the day for the Gaijin with that tackle, as a try had looked ominous.
The 10v5 result to the Gaijin had capped off a memorable day with both sides winning and showing that the club has good depth. Dave Kelver, captain for the ‘B’s, had led by example. He had tackled everything that moved and stolen a few opposition balls in lineouts. Rob Poulton also had a fine game with a lot of carries up the middle for good yards, and Tomo Togo was his usual busy self around the rucks. In the backs, Matt Stride`s booming kicks constantly had the Dandelion’s back three in trouble (especially that right winger in the second half). Jesse Takahashi looked a bit rusty after all this time out of the game but he managed to get through a full game. And Ikuo Fukuda was awarded Player of the Day for his two tries under the black dot – one in each game.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Rob Poulton
PLAYER OF THE DAY: Ikuo Fukuda (for two great tries)
SCORE: TGRFC ‘B’ 10 (I. Fukuda 1 try, R. Brown 1/1 conversion, M. Stride 1/1 penalty) Dandelions 5 (1 try)
‘B’ TEAM :
1. Rob Poulton (England)
2. Tomo Togo (Japan)
3. Warren Adamson (South Africa)
4. Erin Hughes (USA)
5. Dan Salter (England)
6. Gaz Dalrymple (Scotland)
7. Dave Kelver © (USA)
8. Jesse Takahashi (USA)
9. Toru Kanamori (Japan)
10. Matt Stride (Australia)
11. Yusuke Kobayashi (Japan)
12. Yoz Togo (Japan)
13. Daisuke Ikeda (Japan)
14. Charles Joffre (France)
15. Ben Turner (Australia)
Reserves: Yoshihiro Sato (Japan) + some ‘A’ Team boys doubled up