A look into what went down in the year 2009 for the Tokyo Gaijin. All in all a good season of rugby but a few ups and downs along the way.
The Gaijin started the year with wins over the US Navy (USS George Washington team) 27-0, and Chiba-based Akanegahama 47-7 but lost a nailbiting cross-town derby with Yokohama Country and Athletic Club (YCAC) in Yokohama 14-17 after conceding a try in extra time. The club picked itself up to headily beat Setagaya 32-15 in the first round of the Champion's League (which we had earned the right to compete in by winning the Shuto League in 2008).
As a side-note, the barbecue following the Navy match was one to remember with some of the biggest and best beef steaks ever grilled, kindly provided by the folks at the Yokosuka base.
Moving into February the team faced Superman RFC, (one of Japan’s top amateur clubs) in the second round of the Champion's league. A brave effort couldn't stop the Gaijin from going down 6-41 to the Supermen. From then on, it was time to prepare for the Tokyo Cup. This year the Gaijin would feature in the First Division competition for the first time since 2001, being promoted after strong performances in the Second Division in 2008. Focus went into training, though social events such as barbecues were also held regularly. On the last weekend of February, the Annual General Meeting saw the pairing of Murray Clarke and Matthew Downer retained as Captain and Vice Captain of the Club.
The Tokyo Cup opened up with a disappointing loss to Musashino RFC 0-31. Notoriously slow-starters in the Tokyo Cup, this year was no exception and the Gaijin were immediately on the back foot in the competition.
Our second Tokyo cup game was played against Kurumi Club, the eventual winners of the competition. Kurumi had a superb backline and looked to throw the ball around from all parts of the field. Down by a mere 5 points at halftime, the game was in the balance. Unfortunately Kurumi's fitness won the day and they ran away to take the game out 42-17. The Gaijin took some heart in what was a much improved performance from their first Tokyo Cup outing.
Manila Tour 2009
Also in March, the Tokyo Gaijin made their yearly sojourn to Manila, Philippines to play in the annual international Manila 10's tournament. Upon settling in, the Gaijin set out to soak up some sun and check out the local sights before getting ready to do battle all day Saturday in the same sun which the day prior had provided comfort. Getting the benefit of a comfy start time on Saturday, the Gaijin took it to full advantage as they won all three pool games in convincing fashion (10-0, 12-0, and 17-0), thus assuring their return to the Plate Division bracket and a chance to take home some valuable silverware. In a head-to-head match up with the Taipei Baboons, the Gaijin couldn’t get a substantial break in attack, and though the defense held strong for most of the match, a solo try to the Baboons meant we went down to the team from Taipei by a score of 5-0. Overall this was yet again another successful tour for the Gaijin, as the boys held their heads (and beers) up high, taking solace in the fact that they had one of the strongest defensive lines in the tournament.
On a scorching hot day in late April, the Gaijin came up against Tama Club in the third game of the Tokyo Cup. Tama Club are one of the few teams that can match the Gaijin forwards for size and they back this up with some skillful, speedy backs. It was a very hard fought game and could have gone either way until a try to Tama in the dying minutes, sealed it for them 8-22.
With the coming of May and the Golden Week holiday period, training again took precedent and our only game came in the form of a friendly against Musashi University. Musashi had employed the coaching services of former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones prior to the game and Eddie was on hand to watch (and indulge in a few cold ones with us at its conclusion). Tokyo Gaijin members (Akira Asada and Jeff Takahashi) who work for Suntory RFC (where Jones was coaching full-time) set up the match to provide Musashi with a test following the 4 day training camp with Jones. The game was a clear reminder of the need to get more game time for our reserves as a largely second string Gaijin team was completely hammered in the first half, but the first team came in to dominate the second half. Despite the second spell revival, the Gaijin couldn't salvage the game and ended up losing 17-31.
Despite showing improvement game by game in the Tokyo Cup, going into the last match, the Gaijin were still without a win. Their opponents for this game were Tokyo Rokko, an opponent they had narrowly lost to in an encounter last year. This time though, everything clicked for the Gaijin who came out emphatic victors 57-12. This meant the Gaijin ended up 4th out of 5 teams and would have to play-off against the 2nd placed team from the 2nd Division in a promotion relegation game. This turned out to be against Waseda Old Boys and was played on a hideously waterlogged field which was 5cm under water in places. The state of the pitch made the game a real lottery which was ultimately secured by Waseda 7-0. This ended a disappointing return to the top flight, and the Gaijin will return to the 2nd division next year.
The Junior World Cup took place in June with Gaijin members Murray Clarke and Mike Tokue representing the Alternative Rugby Commentary and writing a number of articles for its blog as well as the Rugby in Asia website.
Also in the month of June, the team was very grateful to receive a new set of uniforms, kindly provided once again by main sponsor Oakwood Apartments Asia.
Gaijin 10's / Urayasu 10's
As summer heated up, the 10’s season began and we started with the Gaijin 10’s in Yokohama as a warm up for the Urayasu 10's in Chiba. Two Gaijin teams were fielded in the 10’s tournaments, good indication of our growing depth. Rather than “A” and “B” teams, we sort to mix up the teams and Northern and Southern Hemisphere teams seemed to be the best way to do this. Despite the two teams being of similar skill levels, it was the Southern team that prevailed when the two teams met in the Gaijin 10's (also competing in this tournament were other Tokyo teams All France and the Crusaders). This was followed the next week by the Urayasu tournament which is participated in by around 25 teams. Both our Northern and Southern teams performed strongly winning more games than losing but ultimately came away empty handed in terms of silverware.
Also in July, the Gaijin made their annual pilgrimage to Japan's rugby mecca “Sugadaira”. The Nagano highland location provides refuge from the Tokyo heat and the lush green playing surfaces offer a welcome change from the dirt “fields” we are often forced to compete on in the metropolis. 50 or so teams gather at Sugadaira for a weekend every year, to rejoice in a common love and face off against an unknown rival. On the Saturday, we managed to win one of our two 10's matches before going down narrowly in a 15's match on Sunday. All in all, it was another fun trip away which was enjoyed not only by the players, but also by a large group of supporters that also made the pilgrimage.
The final act of July was to attend a Shuto League referee’s day where we learned of the new “new” law changes that we would play under through Autumn.
And into the Summer break we went!
The Shuto League kicked off with the Gaijin fielding a first team and a second team to play a competition match against All Jin Jan followed by a friendly against the Tampopo (Dandelions). The ability for us to get nearly 40 players together on that day was further evidence of our growing depth. The Gaijin won both matches to give us confidence about retaining the Shuto League Championship for a third year in a row (the first team won 21-7 and the second team, 10-5). The first team game witnessed a try to Ikuo Fukuda that was subsequently to be judged try of the year. Fukuda, playing at inside centre, received the ball on the Gaijin side of halfway and proceeded to dummy his way all the way through to score under the posts.
The confidence we gained from those performances was given a wake-up call in a tightly contested game against Green Mushi which we only prevailed in 13-10 thanks to a last play of the game penalty.
October was a busy month for the Gaijin. While the Shuto League continued, several non-competition matches were held and in the background was a promotion event, known as the Rumble in the Rice Bowl that successfully raised money for the club coffers and gave our sponsor the additional exposure we had hoped for.
Matches included a surprisingly difficult game against Baku & Clover (traditional Shuto league cellar dwellers) which the Gaijin only prevailed in 15-0 and a game against the Old Boys team from Takushoku University, known as Olivers. This club was looking for match play to gauge their suitability to the Shuto competition and they were more than capable, defending a slender lead over the Gaijin going into the final quarter of a game that was unfortunately called off by the ground officials due to a booking error.
After the victory against Baku & Clover, our next Shuto League competition game was against Fuji Club, a team we traditionally get the better of. Although missing some key members, we were still confident of beating Fuji Club. This confidence proved to be misplaced and we went down 10-8 in a tight encounter to put our chances of retaining the Cup firmly in the balance.
We also played in our friendly exhibition game against the Japanese National deaf team known as “All Quiet Typhoon”, a day that doubled as a kids rugby festival.
The Gaijin opened up the month with a strong win in a practice game with the Moccos, 71-10. This game was a perfect warm-up for the must win Shuto League finale against the Gentle Giants to be played the following week, and provided the opportunity for everyone to get some good game time. Player numbers had been steadily increasing throughout the year and the need to give everyone a chance to get onto the paddock was constantly on the minds of the senior members and management.
In our last Shuto League game we needed to win and secure two bonus points (one for scoring 4 tries and one for keeping their opponents to 0 points – an anomaly of the points accumulation system in this Japanese competition) if they were to guarantee their place as Shuto Champions for a third year running in 2009. Despite making all the running in the game and running out comfortable victors, it was not to be as the Giants were able to score two tries and deny us one of the required bonus points. Winning 40-12, we had to be happy with the result of the game, although there was disappointment in knowing we hadn't quite done enough to retain the Championship. There's always next year!
Representative rugby came to town in December with 7 Tokyo Gaijin turning out for various Shuto league rep teams in match-ups with Tama League rivals.
We also had our “Bonenkai” which provided an opportunity to recognise the efforts of key management personnel, supporters and sponsors. Oakwood representative Mr Kieran Myers was on hand to present various awards to Gaijin who had stood out (for good or bad reasons!) during the year.
Final Message from the Outgoing Captain
Gentlemen, it has been a very enjoyable couple of years leading the club. I feel that over the past 3-4 seasons we have been making very positive steps thanks largely to the core leadership group putting in the effort. However it was clear that this year was a trying one due to work and family commitments and as such several of this group will step down as we enter 2010. As this change comes about, I sincerely hope that newer members will step up and take on positions of leadership in the club. Jesse Takahashi’s tireless efforts will be sorely missed and someone must fill his boots while I hope the work that Joffa Harris puts in can be shared around in future; these two individuals do more than any other people to ensure that we can play rugby and we now need others to step up. Therefore, I urge new members to take on that challenge: it is a team game, both on and off the pitch, so let’s see some people take the lead for a successful and enjoyable 2010! --- Muzz
Overall Season Record: Won: 11 Lost: 10 Drawn: 0
2009 Tokyo Gaijin RFC: Aaron Nutsford (New Zealand), Akira Asada (Japan), Alaister Nimmo (England), Andy Ballard (England), Apisai Bati (Fiji), Aran Delaney (USA), Arthur Strang (England), Barry Amos-Yeo (England), Ben Turner (Australia), Blake Walker (New Zealand), Brendan Doherty (Australia), Brian O'Brien (USA), Campbell Clelland (New Zealand), Chris Fearon (New Zealand), Charles Joffre (France), Chris Lucas (Australia), Chris Smith (England), Daisuke Ikeda (Japan), Dan Salter (England),Dave Richards (Wales), David Kelver (USA), Erin Hughes (USA), Eparama' Tuibenau (New Zealand), Garren 'Gaz' Dalrymple (Scotland), Hiroaki Kitajima (Japan), Hitoshi Chihiro (Japan), Ikuo Fukuda (Japan), Jeffrey Takahashi (USA), Jesse Cutler (USA), Jo Iwasaki (Japan), Joe Nawaqavanua (Fiji), Joffa Harris (Australia), Johnathan Burns (USA), Josh O'Brien (USA), Junnosuke Nakamura (Japan), Justin 'Scoobie' Mynah (USA), Kevin Rebay (France), Lonnie Childress (USA), Mark Scott (USA), Matt Downer - VC (New Zealand), Matt Stride (Australia), Mauro Sauco (Argentina), Mike Crafton (USA), Mike Tokue (Japan/Scotland), Murray Clarke - C (New Zealand), Paulo Berriozabal (Basque),Richard O'Shea (Wales), Riki Pitter (France), Rob Poulton (England), Rolando 'Ronnie' Alvarez (Mexico), Rory Brown (South Africa), Saki Naita (Fiji), Sean O'Donoghue (Ireland), Semi Leine (Fiji), Shin Okazaki (Japan), So Nagashima (Japan), Steven Bull (England), Takayuki Kitajima (Japan), Takeshi Ochiai (Japan), Thomas Jayson 'TJ' Cruz (The Philippines), Toby Gallagher (Ireland), Tommy Nasuno (Japan/Canada), Tomo Togo (Japan), Toru Kanamori (Japan), Toshihiro Uematsu (Japan), Tsumugi 'Aki' Akiba (Japan), Warren Adamson (South Africa), Wataru Sato (Japan) William Thompson (Australia), Yoichi Ohira (Japan), Yoshihiro Sato (Japan), Yoz Togo (Japan), Yusuke Kobayashi (Japan), Ben Turner (New Zealand).
Total of Nationalities: 16 ( From a playing base of 73 Players used for the year ).
Departures: Aran Delaney (USA), Barry Amos-Yeo (England), Chris Fearon (New Zealand), Dan Salter (England), Gary 'Gaz' Dalrymple (Scotland), Jonathan Burns (USA), Justin Mynah (USA), Kevin Rebay (France), Mike Crafton (USA), Niall Conlon (UK), Ronnie Alvarez (Mexico), Saki Naita (Fiji), Tommy Nasuno (Japan/Canada).
Arrivals: Aaron Nutsford (New Zealand), Akira Asada (Japan), Aran Delaney (USA), Barry Amos-Yeo (England), Brian O'Brien (USA), Charles Joffre (France), Daisuke Ikeda (Japan), Dave Richards (Wales), Jonathan Burns (USA), Josh O'Brien (USA), Junnosuke Nakamura (Japan), Mark Scott (USA), Matt Stride (Australia), Richard O'Shea (Wales), Tommy Nasuno (Japan/Canada), Toby Gallagher (Ireland), Tomo Togo (Japan), Toshihiro Uematsu (Japan), Warren Adamson (SA), Wataru Sato (Japan), Yoz Togo (Japan), Ben Turner (NZ)
MIA: Tsumugi Akiba (Japan), Yoichi Ohira (Japan), So Nagashima (Japan), Thomas Jayson 'TJ' Cruz (Phillipines), Steve Bull (England) and of course Arthur Strang (nationality unknown)
Season MVP Matt Downer (New Zealand); Runner-Up MVP: Toby Gallagher (Ireland).
Managers: Joffa Harris (Australia), Jesse Takahashi (USA).
Captain: Murray Clarke (New Zealand); Vice-Captain: Matthew Downer (New Zealand)
Treasurer: David Kelver (USA).
Special Thanks: Congratulations to the team, our supporters, medical staff (Yoshi Sato, Shino Iwasaki and Lucy Ballard, especially) and those that helped make it possible with all the off-field work: Jesse Takahashi and Joffa Harris, in particular. A sincere thank you to our sponsor Oakwood Apartments, the above organizers and to our helpers throughout the year, also to Erin Hughes and Mauro Sauco who have done all the work on our website. A huge thanks also to Murray Clarke who is our outgoing Captain from the previous two years. Also a thanks to the many budding 'journos' who have contributed to the site in 2009. Now the 'noughties' (00's) are over we have to make the most of another go at our teens.
Go You Good Thing!