Dateline: November 15th, 2009
Going into the last round of the 2009 Shuto League the TGRFC were on equal footing with All Jin Jan and Tento Mushi – both teams they had beaten earlier in the competition. And both these teams were going head to head later in the day. Only problem was that All Jin Jan was ahead on bonus points – just the one – and were a big chance of getting another against Tento Mushi.
Needing a bonus point and possibly two to win the Shuto League for 2009 the Tokyo Gaijin RFC players (a big squad of 29 in total) gathered at Tsurukawa Station out on the Odakyu line at the ungodly hour of 8:00am. Prop Rob Poulton has never seen this time of day in Japan unless he`s on the way home. Yet there he was, primed for battle with the Gentle Giants. The excellent condition of the field (and the fact that they had showers, cold though they were!) was a fair trade off for the early morning, and the surrounding bush, fresh air and excellent weather made it all worthwhile. The field, Notsuda Rikujo Kyogijo out in the wilds of Machida, was the best field the TGRFC had played on this year....not a bad way to finish the year!
The Gaijin started in a hurry and after excellent early pressure straight from the kickoff captain Murray Clarke dived over the line from a ruck to score. Matt Downer stepped up to convert and the Gaijin were away to a 7v0 start with barely 5 minutes gone.
From the ensuing kickoff Richard O’Shea handed off to Paulo de Berriozabal who made a handsome 20 meter run through the opposition forward pack. O’Shea followed him all the way to receive the ball back. It then went wide but a Toby Gallagher pass was intercepted. The mistake was quickly cancelled when the Gentle Giants center inexplicably kicked across field to an unmarked Apisai Bati having a picnic on the wing.
As Bati came to the winger, he passed the ball infield to Matt Downer who made a strong run up the middle, drew the defense and passed the ball off to de Berriozabal who went over the line to score. Downer again converted to give the Gaijin a 14v0 lead within 10 minutes. Helter skelter stuff!
Downer looked like he was going to trouble the scorers again soon after when he chipped the defense and was leading the race to the ball. Unfortunately the ball beat him over the dead ball line which was way short of regulation at 2 meters. At the 14th minute mark the first Gentle Giants injured player was taken from the field, courtesy of the strong Gaijin defense. Soon after Blake Walker knocked on his first high kick (probably ever according to him). Admittedly the sun was still very low in the sky and streaming right into the TGRFC players’ eyes, which made the quick start even more remarkable.
The first time the Gentle Giants actually threatened came from a typical Paulo de Berriozabal penalty for leaving the scrum early. The Gaijin were defending stoutly on their own line but weight of numbers was favoring the GGs. In fact they looked like scoring for all money with a two man overlap on their right. Hitoshi Chihara, came up into the line and took an intercept and became a hero, when he so easily could have been the villain. He made a good 40 meters before being reeled in by the defense but with some good support play and a clever chip kick the Gaijin ended up on the Gentle Giants 5 meter line. The Gentle Giants managed to fight their way out with two consecutive penalties but then an ordinary kick found Andy Ballard waiting ready to pounce. After making valuable ground a ruck was set up and half Rory Brown spied a gap but only managed to get halfway through before handing off a ball to Matt Downer.Downer chipped the fullback, won the race to the ball, and got a lovely bounce. He converted his own try and the Gaijin were now up 21v0.
The bonus point for 4 tries was to come soon after. A Downer penalty kick into the corner set up a 5 meter lineout. The ever-reliable lineout jumping of Murray Clarke set up a maul and Richard O’Shea went blind from the back and barged over in the corner for his first try for the Gaijin. Downer was unable to convert from the side line but one bonus point was in the basket and the Gaijin had a handy lead at 26v0.
At this stage the Gaijin would have been feeling pretty good about keeping the Giants scoreless but two things conspired to shut down those chances. Firstly the Gaijin scrum suddenly became susceptible to being turned 180 degrees. (This writer suspects that the Giants tight side prop would take the hit and then just back off, causing a wheel).Whatever it was, it was working, and Gaijin lost the next 4 scrums on their feed due to resets with the opposition gaining the feed. Toby Gallagher also came off second best in a tackle in the midfield and had to come from the field with blood streaming from his nose and mouth. This was a big loss as Gallagher was a constant thorn in the Gentle Giants side with his speed to the rucks.
The tide finally turned against the TGRFC when constant pressure from the Gentle Giants saw them score in the left corner after a few sweeping phases from right to left. About 4 Gaijin players could be seen on their knees – a combination of exhaustion and injury. Toru Kanamori had to leave the field at this stage due to a wrenched neck from this scrum problem that had just flared after being so dominant in the scrums in the early part of the game. The conversion from out wide was unsuccessful leaving the score at 26v5 to the Gaijin at halftime.
Despite an excellent first half with some great support play and positional domination, the Gaijin had blown the chance to keep the Gentle Giants scoreless. One positive was that the team could bring on reserves freely now from the 14 backup players they had on the day.
The Gaijin instantly applied pressure from the second half kickoff and within 5 minutes Apisai Bati broke through 2 tackles and strolled through under the posts to score. Downer converted to make the score 33 v 5.
Downer was responsible for the next lot of points as well as he took a feeble attempted chip-kick from the Gentle Giants centre - Mark Waugh-esque (think cricket!) - and than had a fairly clear run to the line. Downer converted his own try to make the score 40 v 5.
The signal to get the reserves on came when Apisai Bati put up a ridiculous mid-field bomb that went backwards and just watched it as he had no gas in the tank to chase it. Fresh legs didn't necessarily mean competent rugby though. Play bacame sloppy for the Gaijin as a raft of changes were made. The Gentle Giants however, were only able to get one more try with a runaway through shocking defense up the middle. They converted their try to leave the final score at 40 v 12. In the forwards, Bati had a good match until he ran out of puff, and Richard O'Shea and Toby Gallagher, until he went off with a smashed up nose, were in everything. Matt Downer was the pick of the backs, with an excellent kicking display and two classy tries.
Score: TGRFC 40 (Matt Downer 2, Murray Clarke 1, Paulo de Berriozabal 1, Richard O'Shea 1 tries, Apisai Bati 1, M. Downer 5 / 6 conversions) Gentle Giants 12
MAN OF THE MATCH: Apisai Bati
Goat of the Match: Erin Hughes
1. Mark Scott (USA)
2. Toru Kanamori (Japan)
3. Rob Poulton (England)
4. Richard O’Shea (Wales)
5. Murray Clarke © (New Zealand)
6. Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)
7. Toby Gallagher (Ireland)
8. Apisai Bati (Fiji)
9. Rory Brown (South Africa)
10. Matt Downer (New Zealand)
11. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
12. Alaister Nimmo (England)
13. Andy Ballard (England)
14. Ikuo Fukuda (Japan)
15. Blake Walker (New Zealand)
Reserves: Tomo Togo (Japan); Warren Adamson (South Africa); Jesse Takahashi (USA); Erin Hughes (USA); Gaz Dalrymple (Scotland); Joffa Harris (Australia); Josh O’Brien (USA); Matt Stride (Australia); Jo Iwasaki (Japan); Charles Joffre (France); Wataru Sato (Japan); Toshihiro Uematsu(Japan); Yoshihiro Sato (Japan); Brian O’Brien (USA)