“The Voice of Rugby” (Bill McLaren) might have sadly passed away a couple of weeks ago, but the Tokyo Gaijin have a few voices of rugby of their own... and as usual they were very active on Sunday the 31st of January, 2010, as they met NSC Ruggers. This was a team with which the Gaijin have had a bitter history. 20th of May 2007 (the last time the two teams met) is a day that will live in infamy, and saw the NSC Ruggers knock the TGRFC out of the Tokyo Cup in what was a well fought but disappointing game, 25 points to 21. On a better surface and more favourable conditions, the TGRFC met again with the NSC Ruggers in a friendly at the Hino Sports Grounds.


The Gaijin started the game well, sacrificing a small amount of possession for a lion’s share of the territory. This gave the scrum-half / fly-half partnership time to gel... Toru Kanamori has been a tried and tested scrum-half (Editor's note: actually, usual hooker and fifth choice scrumhalf), but it was his first time working with Toby Gallagher who was filling in for Club Captain Matt Downer. There were a few butter finger moments on the pitch leading to set piece pressure, particularly in the scrums. Front rowers Blake Walker, Sakai and Match Captain (Club Vice Captain) Tomo Togo held firm, but Walker whose rugby career of late has been hampered with injury and a burger habit he just can't kick ? had to be replaced with Warren Adams. With the help of loose forwards Dave Kelver and Apisai Bati, pressure on the opposition fly-half was not eased and the Gaijin kept their foot on the pedal.

Despite the TGRFC threatening the opposition try-line for the first 20 minutes, the first to open the scoring was the NSC Ruggers. A well worked scrum by the forwards on the Gaijin 22 metre line secured clean ball for the backs. The ball reached the fly-half who made an inside pop into the full-back running on at pace, cutting a line that caught the Gaijin backs flat-footed. The full-back scored under the posts and the try was easily converted. The NSC Ruggers had finally troubled the scorers and gone to a lead of 7v0.

The Gaijin did not let this negative development get the better of them. They hit back hard and fast. Within 5 minutes the Gaijin were back in the opposition 22. Phase-play saw a good build-up in possession with second rowers Rich O’Shea and Erin Hughes making their presence known all over the park. In a good attacking position, solid ball from the forwards found fly-half Gallagher, who put boot to ball and sent a small grubber kick for the backs to run on to. But “like a demented ferret up a wee drainpipe” Gallagher managed to run on to his own ball within 10 metres of the try-line and fed outside centre Andy Ballard before getting tackled. Ballard had to fend off two challenges of his own but a long outstretched armed planted the ball firmly over the try-line. Without regular kicker Matt Downer, Gallagher tried his best from the touchline, but failed to convert. Score 7v5 to NSC Ruggers.

The ball was soon back in NSC Ruggers court, and they hit back hard. Almost immediately from the kick-off and minutes from the half-time whistle, NSC scored a well-worked flowing try. The move started from the halfway line with the inside centre punching a hole in the Gaijin backs. This ball was quickly offloaded to the winger who ran it down the line evading half-hearted tackles by the Gaijin defence. Before the Gaijin knew it, their efforts had been cancelled out with another converted try... 14 points to 5. Worse still, previous try-scorer Ballard had pulled his thigh muscle in the chase and was left hobbling off the pitch. This was an opportunity for new member Mike Ryan from New Zealand to strut his stuff in the full-back position. The half-time whistle was a much needed break for the team to regroup.

Togo rallied the troops calling for all-out aggression, and the elimination of unforced errors which had hampered any chance the Gaijin had at possession. The second half started well and it appeared as though Togo had managed to get through to the lads. Sadly this spell of possession and territory was short-lived, as NSC Ruggers got their heads back in the game. Camped out in the Gaijin 22, they were made to defend with bodies on the line. A 5 metre scrum after some aggressive phase play saw the Gaijin make an uncharacteristic move... Paulo “The Angel” Berriozabal who is generally acknowledged by club members as the authority on fair play, was caught by the referee for allegedly breaking off from the scrum early and diving on the ball which was still in the scrum at the feet of the Number 8. The referee blew for the alleged infringement, but Berriozabal clung to the ball for dear life as the NSC Ruggers tried to take a quick penalty. Had the game been a competitive match, there may have been a card.

In hindsight however this was a turning point for the game. NSC Ruggers failed to capitalise on this spell of pressure, and instead it was from broken play at the half-way line that Apisai “The Tank” Bati broke off from a rolling mall, sidestepped an attacking forward, handed-off a chasing back and scored a great individual try. The subsequent conversion was missed leading to a 10 v 14 score line in favour of NSC Ruggers.

Play slowly began to deteriorate as a lack of fitness started to weigh on both teams. Substitutions were made in the shape of Isaac Law (a recent American recruit playing rugby for the first time) coming of for Ikuo Fukuda who had played a steady performance and Joffa Harris caming on to replace Erin Hughes in the second row. This helped to sure up the defensive line-up, but Gallagher went down clutching his wrist at the bottom of a ruck... The doctor’s final verdict was that he had hyper-extended his wrist, and it was not due to overuse as some players had suspected. However this meant further substitutions... Gen Yamazaki, in his first game for the club, took the place of an ailing Bati on the flank, and utility player Walker returned to the pitch to take the place of Harris (second row) who filled in at Number 10.

Play however looked somewhat disjointed, perhaps in part due to the number of players playing in unnatural positions. Neither side threatened to score for the remaining 10 minutes and the final whistle was an end to a good-natured and close game... NSC Ruggers 14, Tokyo Gaijin 10.

SCORE: NSC Ruggers 14 TGRFC 10 (Andy Ballard 1, Apisai Bati 1 tries, T. Gallagher 0/2 goals)

Man of the Match: Paulo Berriozabal
Goat of the Match: Josh O'Brien (for that horrible kick)

Team:

(1) Warren Adamson (SA)

(2) Tomo Togo (JPN)

(3) Blake Walker (NZ)

(4) Richard O'Shea (Wales)

(5) Erin Hughes (USA)

(6) Apisai Bati (Fiji)

(7) Dave Kelver (USA)

(8) Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)

(9) Toru Kanamori (JPN)

(10) Toby Gallagher (Ireland)

(11)  Ikuo Fukuda (JPN)

(12) Daisuke Ikegami (JPN)

(13) Andy Ballard (ENG)

(14) Charles Joffre (France)

(15) Jo Iwasaki (JPN)

Reserves: Sakae Saito (JPN), Josh O'Brien (USA), Joffa Harris (AUST), Gen Yamazaki (JPN), Brian O'Brien (USA), Mike Ryan (NZ)