It seems, as per usual protocol, that the Tokyo Gaijin played against 16 men, if you include the referee. It was a hard fought and tense game that eventually went the way of the Gaijin thanks to Matt scoring all the points and kicking a last play penalty to win the game.
The game was played on a typically disregarded field with a large sand patch in the middle, which when kicked up, resembled the dust storm currently afflicting Sydney and other parts of Oz. This didn't prove too much of an issue besides dust getting into eyes, noses and mouths but it made for an entertaining spectacle for those on the sideline.
The team we were up against was a side formed by the merger of Koganei Green and the Tentou Mushi, now called the Green Mushi. We stuck with the old name Tentoumushi but we were fully aware leading up to the weekend that both these clubs has tested us the previous season, with tight score lines and hard ruck work and some great running by their backs. We expected a handful and the objective was to remain cool and calm and play our style of game at our pace. However, plans are there to be broken.
The Gaijin received the first kick off and immediately started to grind their way forward through good hands and solid forward work. The forwards were making good ground with every phase and opened the backline up for them to try and spread the ball. The Gaijin were met with good defence but almost immediately Tentomushi began to fray and resort to the underhanded techniques we experienced from them the previous year. In the first few minutes, the Gaijin seemed to drive up a few metres and then get pushed back again through penalities or simple handling errors. Instead of playing the game at their own pace, the Gaijin seemed to be drawn into Tentomushi style of play and tried to run and spread the ball as opposed to playing up with the forwards and slowing the ball down to suit their big pack. Midway through the first half the Gaijin were rewarded a penalty in front of the posts and Matt Downer managed to slot it through to give the Gaijin a 3-0 advantage but not before attempting a drop goal after hearing the advantage call from the ref (this was a fraction off target and was ruled unsuccessful by the referee although Downer [hoping for his first ever dropgoal from open play] and other spectators swear it went over).
After the penalty was scored the Gaijin continued in the same vein as before but the momentum seemed to be shifting as Tentonmoushi managed to repel a good Gaijin attack. This was helped with Rob Poulton trying to pick-and-drive and knocking the ball forward with the line beckoning. He claims that the ball was wet, but the field was as dry as the Outback desert. Tentomushi managed to hack the ball down the touchline into open space and a footrace was on. Blake managed to come across field, collect the ball and run it out over the sideline, merely 5 metres from the Gaijin tryline. The plays that followed this, led to a Tentomushi try in the corner giving them a 3-5 scoreline. Their kicker was unable to convert the try and the score stayed at 3-5.
The Gaijin pulled themselves together but couldn't turn the momentum, and after good breakout run by the Tentomushi, they were sniffing at the try line again. They were eventually rewarded a penalty a few metres out from the Gaijin tryline and tried to run it through the defence but a solid tackle by Matt took down one of their players to breakdown the movement. The referee however immediately blew his whistle and called the tackle dangerous and sent an incredulous Matt off to the sinbin for 10 minutes. It was a debatable decision, and could have gone either way depending in what country you play in (Japan or elsewhere). Downer was heard to mumble "It's not tiddlewinks, ref" as he left the field. The Tentomushi were able to cross the tryline after this penalty giving them a 3-10 scoreline but were again unable to convert the try.
The Gaijin went into the break with the scoreline at 3-10 with alot of work to do of they were to win. The second half was better for the Gaijin as they kept their composure and began using their size against a physically smaller team and kept driving the ball upfield at every phase. The referee kept awarding the Gaijin penalties as the Tentomushi were infringing at the breakdown but the Gaijin kept tapping the ball or opting for a scrum as they knew that this would wear the opposition down. The momentum changed when the Gaijin managed to turn the opposition scrum and were rewarded with the put in. From this point it seemed that the Gaijin knew that they could win and with about 30 minutes to go, the game was theirs for the taking.
Matt received the ball from loose play and managed to break a few tackles before smashing over the tryline to make the score 8-10 with the conversion to come. He slotted the conversion to tie things up at 10 points a piece. The Gaijin now knew that the game was on a knife's edge. The majority of the 2nd half was played in Tentomushi's half but the Gaijin just couldn't manage to cross the line to extend the lead being frustrated by Tenomushi's good work in slowing the ruck ball down (without giving away penalties). In addition the Gaijin continued to make basic errors and were becoming their own worst enemy.
As the game was coming to a close, Tentomushi had one last go to break the game with one of their back players making a superb break down the touchline but was running out of space and was eventaully slammed into touch. The Gaijin then won the ball and marched it back up field into the opposition 22. The referee finally penalized Tentonmoushi for not rolling away in the final minute of the game and so Matt Downer stepped up and calmly slotted the ball through to win the game 13-10.
The highlights of the game were the strong scrums, solid lineouts and great fringe ruck work by the tight five. The loose forwards were always making a nuisance of themselves with Murray having a cracker of a game off the back of the scrum. This solid forward work managed to snaffle a good amount of opposition lineouts and turn a few scrums over. The backline was also free to run a bit with the forwards creating "go-forward".
Mention should go to the whole forward pack but in particular, Captain Clarke and Dave Kelver were outstanding.
The 'not-so-highlights' were the simple mistakes that the Gaijin committed: simple handling errors, silly passes, inaccurate kicks and at times, overly aggressive ruck work. If the Gaijin were to keep the ball in hand and play at their pace, the scoreline would have been more favourable, but Tentonmoushi managed to repel the forwards and play to their strengths. They were able to spread the ball wide and quick, forcing the Gaijin to shift in defence and make a few cover tackles. They kept the ball away from the forwards as they knew that they would be beaten upfront.
All-in-all the Gaijin put in a solid game and came out on top, even though there were a few dubious calls from the referee. It must be said though that he went both sides with these dubious calls, and all in all, we could not complain.
Final result, a hard-fought 13-10 win.
Following the game, we adjourned to a nearby Izakaya to celebrate the win and also longstanding Gaijin lynchpin Apisai Bati's 39th birthday. Celebrations went on well into the night with Bati, Joffa, and Gaz eventually being left at the Izakaya by the rest of the team, late in the night............
Final score: 13-10 (HT3-10): Tries: Matt Downer (1) Conv: Matt Downer (1) Pen: Matt Downer (2)
Man of the Match: Matt Downer
Goose of the Match: Rob Poulton
1. Chris Fearon (New Zealand)
2. Toru Kanamori (Japan)
3. Rob Poulton (England)
4. Richard O`Shea (Wales)
5. Warren Adamson (South Africa)
6. Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)
7. Dave Kelver (USA)
8. Murray Clarke (c)(New Zealand)
9. Rory Brown (South Africa)
10. Matt Downer (New Zealand)
11. Andy Ballard (England)
12. Jo Iwasaki (Japan)
13. Ikuo Fukuda (Japan)
14. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
15. Blake Walker (New Zealand)
Reserves: Chris Lucas (Australia); Gaz Dalrymple (Scotland); Joffa Harris (Australia); Apisai Bati (Fiji); Daisuke Ikeda (Japan); Yusuke Kobayashi (Japan); Yoz Togo (Japan)