YCAC 10s (Wednesday) and game V YCAC (Sunday)
Image There's something unnerving about a trip to the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club.  It has little to do with their having a strong side (they do), or with the distance of the journey to get there (it's quite far for most of us); rather it's an unmistakeably musty whiff of conceit.  Whether that conceit is real or imagined is, of course, something that we can leave to the multi-million-earning clinical pyschologists but seeing as bugger-all clinical pyschologists play footie - and the ones who do probably play for YCAC - it's by the by.
The day was glorious, the pitch was in its customary good nick (there have to be some benefits to immersing oneself in imperiousness, and listening to plummy accents whilst trying to spot the Raj-era safari suits doesn't qualify), and a healthy squad of 15 was primed.
   First-up was a stroll in the park against the most excellently-monikered Zenkai (perhaps) Beers.  What they lacked in ability and talent, they more than made up for with a penchant for head-high tackles, of which Niall Conlon was an unwilling recipient.  It mattered not a jot, though, as Gaijin rattled in a few tries including two to Mad Mauro Sauco, who showed a remarkable turn of pace for a man built like a bomb shelter, and a 70-metre effort to spindly new lad, Ian Roy.  Chris Lucas skylarked - although he might prefer to phrase it "showed great support play" - to bag himself one, and Chuckie Laing, Murray Clarke - following great work by Jyoh Iwasaki - and Richard Beard got on the scoresheet, too.  With Richard Beard kicking conversions with aplomb, it was off for a couple of thousand yen worth of pasta for lunch.  Score: TGRFC 41- Beers 0.
The second match was against the strong host side who enjoyed the assistance of a rather good backline player from either Melanesia or Polynesia who was ultimately named player of the tournament, and a very fast local winger with an unfeasibly handy sidestep.  Along with their usual compliment of large, possibly spoilt-as-children or possibly not (I don't know, I'm sure they're very nice people) forwards and solid support play, they gave us a bit of a kicking. The only bright spot was a lovely solo try by Joe Fisher who chipped ahead then outsprinted the defence to dot down. Score: TGRFC 7 - YCAC quite a bit.
So, on to Sunday and the main event.  Few in the team needed reminding of the pasting Gaijin took against YCAC in January and a sense of necessity propelled us into this game: namely, the need not to look like arseheads again.
Soaking up uncharacteristic early Gaijin pressure, YCAC went out to 12-0 lead courtesy of a missed tackle down the wing and a powerful rolling maul.  Gaijin then turned their territorial superiority into points with Rob Reinebach swatting off some attempted tackles to score near the posts.  YCAC, sensing a game on their hands, reverted to their strengths: they plugged the corners with some good tactical kicking, then relied once more on their powerful scrums and rolling mauls, the latter of which yielded another converted try.  Around the fringes and in the tight, honours were fairly even.  Typical of such encounters between large men with axes to grind, the claret flowed (a substantial proportion of it from Murray Clarke's head), people stumbled around groggily (Niall Conlon, although he often does on a Sunday, rugby or no), and limbs were torn asunder (Ian Roy, one dislocated shoulder, thanks). 7-19 at the break and with half the population of Chiswick - and a very good first-five called Patu who clearly wasn't from Chiswick - on their bench, YCAC was looking good.
The all-important first score in the second-half went to the Gaijin.  In the massacre back in January, Gaijin had the small consolation of having scored the best solo try of the game through Felix (who wasn't present at this match and may well still be "at the station"). It will possibly go down as the best team try that Gaijin has ever scored...simply because 14 players were involved in it.  A stroke of either supreme genius or supreme retardation-that-worked by Blake Walker in loose play gave the Gaijin a line-out 15 metres from the YCAC line.  Captain Joe Fisher called for a 14-man maul off the top and - despite the frightening number of backs doing forwards' work - the drive trundled toward the line without capitulating into a messy pile of arses.  Takashi Mutou picked up from the base, feigned to pass despite there being no-one but a solitary Richard Beard to pass to, and darted over for the try.The margin closed to 5 points, but this was to be the closest that we would get.  YCAC, perhaps aware that their rolling maul was about as enjoyable to watch as lung surgery, decided to start giving it to their dangerous outside backs and it was one such of these characters who burst on to a forward-ish pass and danced a merry jig down the left wing to score, it must be said, a bit of a gem. This may have precipitated the clinking of opening floodgates; conversely, it didn't.  Joffa Harris got angry and went for a run down the middle of the park that was ended only when he realised that he's not supposed to be fast and in open space.  Joe Fisher, Shaun Hughes, So Nagashima and Mark Pearson took it as their key to put their collective heads down and hammer away harder, and Mauro Sauco went on a barnstorming pick-up-and-go. Behind the linesman and seven yards out of play. The irrepressible Rob Reinebach then went over among some tackles that may have been strong but, set against such an enormously-dimensioned beast, didn't look like it.
However, the faint glimmers were extinguished with a YCAC penalty out in front, followed by a laughable try set up by their fullback who was permitted to run 60 metres back and forth across the field, down to the shops for a quick pie and Coke, and back again to set up the winger in the corner.
Final score: 17-34.  A much-improved effort in a bruising encounter.  The margin of YCAC's victory flattered if the fact of their victory did not: Gaijin had the edge in territory; YCAC, the edge in possession.  Sean-Fitzpatrick-styled "full credit" to the referee, 'Special Agent' Edward T. Gardner, who was very good.  And it's not often a losing team can say that.
Team: Mark Pearson -USA, So Nagashima -Japan, Mauro Sauco -Argentina, Shaun Hughes -Australia, Rob Reinebach -USA, Murray Clarke -New Zealand, Joe Fisher -New Zealand, Joffa Harris -Australia,  Blake Walker -New Zealand, Richard Beard -England, Takeshi Takada -Japan, Niall Conlon -England, Ian Roy -England, Jyoh Iwasaki -Japan, Heats Devlin -Australia; Takayuki Kitajima -Japan, Mike Gallup -USA, Mike Taylor -England, Chris Lucas -Australia, Arthur Strang -England, Takashi Mutou -Japan.