18th of October 2009.
A love story normally ends happily, alas this was to be a story of lost opportunity with heartbreak, headaches, flashing lights (not from love hotels), and at some stages no lights at all. And like some love stories it finishes with two groups going hard at it before a premature finish, and one team getting told to go home early.
However I should hasten to add that this is a love for rugby story; and not the steamy, sweat inducing romance novel that Andy Ballard has been very busy with lately.
In the effort to get more game time for some of the second string players a friendly match was organised with Olivers RFC, a University Old Boys team, that would provide some magnificent surroundings in which the Tokyo Gaijin RFC would play their first night game for a long time. The picteresque surroundings of Takushoku Daigaku would play host to the meeting of the two teams.
Given that it was a game geared towards getting some players extra time, we were left bemused by a less than enthusiastic turn-out which would see some positional changes in order to permit a team to take the field. With a new-look front row of a prop/lock, fullback and a loose-forward the game would be sure to provide a pretty torrid time for the forwards. With team selection sorted and a lot of pre-game testing the TGRFC took the paddock with a particularly green forward pack combination, and with what looked to be more experienced forwards in opposition.
Even though the field to be played on was more more square than rectangular courtesy of some very wide dimensions, Olivers managed to kick it wide enough from the kick-off for Warren Adamson to mishandle the ball and knock it into touch. With the game being played under rapidly decreasing light, and the boys not experienced playing under lights, difficulty handling the ball would be something else to contend with.
The Olivers team were more adept in these conditions and made the most of the wide touchlines pushing the ball wide early and to good effect. The TGRFC was scrambling in defence early and some good loose-forward play from Paulo Berriozabal saw him spy the loose ball at the back of a ruck. He pounced on it and made some yards upfield to decrease the pressure on the Gaijin line.
The obvious game plan of Olivers was to push the ball wide and stretch the Gaijin forwards, but initially they were being halted by some fortunate positioning of TGRFC members. Ikuo Fukuda popped up on one such occassion to take an intercept ball, and make an early foray into the Olivers half. The ball was kept alive well only for Al Nimmo to unfortunately knock-on as he tried to pick up the loose ball form his toes and at speed. The support work was good....the final pass not so! From a penalty Matt Downer would put the ball out for a lineout with the Gaijin hard on attack.
With pressure on the Olivers and a period of play with them in their own 22 they would be able to release pressure from a scrum penalty where Berriozabal was whistled for breaking from the scrum early ( a common occurence!). We would later find out that the reason for him being called for a lot of penalties on this day was that with the dark, and his contact lens he couldn't really see when the ball was coming out.
Several minutes later with some Olivers teamwork working them downfield and a couple of penalties for hands in the ruck, the Gaijin were hard on defense in their own 22. After playing an expansive game to get the ball on attack the Olivers were trying to bash over close to the line. The inside half popped inside to a hard running forward only for halfback Al Nimmo to hammer him in a tackle and for the ball to be cleared back to Matt Stride to clear. The new look forward pack was combining well in close play to deny opportunities and with Nimmo marshalling the troops the team was feeling positive.
However, soon after, Gaijin hearts would be broken with a sweeping Olivers backline move extending the defence of both forwards and backs too far and the left side winger going over very close to touch despite the valiant efforts of Matt Downer, playing his first game at fullback. The try was dubious with calls from those on the touch line that the scorer had actually put a foot in touch. It was actually then that the referee realised there wasn't a touch judge on that side of the field so the referee had to award it based on what he could see. With the Gaijin players all screaming out at each other, if one of them had a flag they would have been able to call "out" and save the team 5 points. 5 - 0 to Olivers.
With the Gaijin needing to answer back first it was to be the inspirational Apisai Bati that would do what was needed. After a rampaging run down the wing, he would pop a pin-point perfect pass infield to Daisuke Ikeda over the defence and Daisuke would dot down under the posts to answer back. The try and the conversion by Matt Downer would put the Gaijin at 7-5 up.
As mentioned earlier, after the pre-game team shuffle Matt Downer would find himself at fullback and not his usual standoff position. At one point mid first half he took a nice clearing kick from Olivers that failed to find touch. He put up a huge bomb that would go 50 metres upfield and fall in to the hands of a catcher who was about to be enveloped in the biggest tackle of his life. Downer absolutely crunched him and with the ball being spilled, lock Rich O'Shea kicked ahead the lost ball for more yardage. With the carnage left at the 40 m line the movement broke down a further 20 metres upfield.
Olivers would be the first team to score again however when a chip kick over the back line to the open side by Hitoshi Chihara was easily gathered up. With sloppy cover defense in operation, the receiver charged down a vacant wing area and with the Gaijin backtracking the #11 wing for Olivers slipped through weak tackles and dotted down for another 5 pointer. The converted try put Olivers 12-5 up.
Bati was again to prove the instigator of some much needed field position for the Gaijin when he took a bomb and burst through 5 or 6 tacklers on his way into enemy territory. After a chip which was not collected cleanly by the Olivers cover defense the Gaijin were hard on attack.
The new Gaijin pack had been competing well at the set piece. The front row of Blake Walker, Gaz Dalrymple and Warren Adamson, were being supported well by Erin Hughes and Rich O'shea in the locking department and all 5 were beginning to get some clean ball as well as putting pressure on a strong scrum set-piece by Olivers. With the Gaijin gaining parity at the set-piece and a few penalties going their way for ruck infringements, the Olivers line was again being challenged. From two consecutive penalties the ball was given to Warren Adamson to put in some big charges at the line. Paulo was the benefactor of the weight of possession, getting over the line with some hard work at the contact point. The conversion was missed from in-front by Matt Stride and the score was even at 12-12.
With the second half would come a string of changes and some unmemorable rugby. It began as a battle of attrition and the Olivers team looked to be coming out on top. By halfway through the second half both props were gone from the front row for the Gaijin, Warren Adamson with a suspected shoulder injury and Blake Walker to his inability to suck in enough oxygen to stand up for much longer against the Olivers front row.
Paulo was the first to put the Gaijin on the board in the second half after scoring a well-worked try after a wheeled scrum. The ball was popped from the back by Al Nimmo to Paulo to crash over to put the Gaijin in front 17 - 12. The try was unconverted but the gaijin were be happy to get first points on the board in the second half.
As the Gaijin tired their play became sloppy and they started to fall off tackles. On one such occassion the Olivers backline greased through the defense easily and but for a lucky dropped ball, would have been back even after a good chip and chase attempt.
At this stage the Gaijin still had their front row intact but the strain was beginning to show and some good work by the forwards helped to release some pressure. The team had been camped on their line for a long time when the opportunity came to clear after some strong tackling and holding the ball up over the line. Of note was a big tackle from Bati to stop the runner in his tracks and some ruck and maul work by the single digit boys.
The pressure was not to be off for too long though as some changes to the forward pack affected the Gaijin lineout which started to increase the pressure on the team and they lost one. A succesful chip and chase put the pressure on again. From a scrum on the open side Olivers managed to stride over for what was eventually a pretty soft try. With the try converted the Gaijin were behind again with a 19-17 scoreline.
The majority of the second half was to be played out midfield with the two teams beginning to have difficulty with the light, the cold dew descending, and perhaps the time of night that the game was being played, which was quite new for most members.
Following a large passive spell of rugby the game had another burst of action. Paulo Berriozabal put in a very big tackle and from the subsequent ruck Bati Apisai stole the ball clean. It was one of the more memorable moments of that period of the game.
The last try of the game would come courtesy of the wing for Olivers. Once again nice crisp wide passing from the Olivers back line created an overlap for him to race for the corner. Although suspiciously close to the sideline he was deemed to be not out and the try was scored to have Olivers 24 - 17 up.
Although time was running down the Gaijin have always performed well in these situations and were certainly not out of the game. The Gaijin had a scrum on their 30m line to clear the ball after getting the better of Olivers at the ruck and maul situation. Step in Officialdom. What then happened next was something you might hear of or see in a Question of Sport ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bUOpjamRB0 ). The officials informed us that the game had not been officially registered at the University so the game would have to stop there. Rather than complete the last 10 minutes, the lights would be turned off.
After the game the Senior players in the Gaijin decided that it was probably best to call the game early, rather than embarrassing the Olivers team with a storming finish and a final scoreline of 63 - 24.
Once again thank you to all of the helpers involved in the first night game for a long time. Of special mention is Hitomi Kurosawa, and Junnosuke Nakamura. Also of special mention is the everpresent Mana Harris-Nasu who picked up a few choice phrases courtesy of after match drinks back at the station.
SCORE: Olivers 24 (4 tries, 2 conversions) TGRFC 17 (Paulo de Berriozabal 2, Daisuke Ikeda 1 tries, Matt Downer 1/1 , Matt Stride 0/2 conversions)
Man of the Match: Blake Walker (NZ) for hard work in the forwards outside of his usual position of floating in the backline.
1. Blake Walker (NZ)
2. Gaz Dalrymple (SCO)
3. Warren Adamson (SA)
4.Richard O'Shea (WAL),
5. Erin Hughes (USA),
6. Yoz Togo (JPN),
7. Jessie Takahashi (JPN),
8. Paulo de Berriozabal (BSQ),
9. Alistair Nimmo (ENG),
10. Matt Stride (AUS),
11. Yoshihiro Satou (JPN),
12. Ikuo Fukuda (JPN),
13. Daisuke Ikeda (JPN)
14. Yusuke Kobayashi (JPN)
15. Matt Downer (NZ).
Reserves: Will Thompson (AUS), Joffa Harris (AUS), Apisai Bati (FIJ), Jeff Cutler (JPN), Charles Joffre (FRA), Junnosuke (JPN), Dave Kelver (USA)