Dateline: April 25, 2010
It was always going to be the match of the competition for the Tokyo Gaijin RFC. Superman had not had a hard match in several years of competition as they made their way back to the higher divisions after indiscretions several years earlier. The final scoreline of 48 - 10 flattered Superman, but at the end of the day their bodies told the story of a team that knew they had been challenged.
The opening stanza was one the TGRFC can be pleased about. Though points were not added to the board early the Gaijin dominated the field position and a strong scrum was at the forefront of this dominance. Chris Lucas stepped up to the starting prop position with the staunch presence of Takayuki Kitajima on the other side and the spritely Tomo Togo (VC) hooking. Mauro Sauco provided the second row bulk with Richard O'Shea the athleticism and size at lock. They were also supported well in the contest by Murray Clarke, Dai Richards and Joffa Harris who added size and speed to the pack. These men worked hard continuously throughout the whole day and should be commended for the impression they made on the Supermen.
As the half wore on the earlier dominance the Gaijin held was erased after some loose play let the Supermen in for the first try. The team had to regroup quickly so as not to be demoralised but unfortunately a further quick turnover and Supermen flinging the ball wide early meant they chimed in for another try with less than another 3 minutes added to the clock.
The referee was clearly having some interpretation problems as after a missed penalty attempt from Downer midway through the first half, he opted for the scrum restart at about the 40m line after it went dead on the full. Thankfully sense prevailed on that occasion and after some gentle persuading he reversed his decision and restarted from the 22m, as per the rules. Later Downer choose to take the 3 points on offer so as not to provide the referee with any more challenging decisions (fingers crossed).
Heading towards the end of the first half Jeff Harris and VC Togo would be involved in a nasty mishap that would prove to upset things heading into the second half. Loose ball from a defensive lineout was not controlled well by Superman, and the ball sprung out the back of a poorly formed ruck situation that arose from this. With Togo and Harris both attacking the ball the Gaijin would be sure to win the vital turnover. Togo launched at it with his body, and Harris with his boot. The following calamity meant that our only throwing hooker would left the field at halftime with suspected shoulder ligament damage and the ball would stay around the 30m line instead of being hacked another 50 metres down-field from the boot of Harris.
Not long after this he would receive a yellow-card. The referee judged him to be offside when he came around and cleared out a loosely bound player at the back of a maul that was close to the line. Correct or not Harris would be off the field for 10 minutes on either side of the halftime break.
The Gaijin backs were working well also with Mike Ryan a constant threat coming into the backline opening up some running room for the tireless 10 Matt Downer (Captain) to charge at the gaps and Hitoshi Chihara adding some changes of direction in the center.
Matt Downer had also put alot of pressure on the back 3 of Superman who were not coping well with some booming kicks and good chases. On several occassions the pressure coming through from the Gaijin defense led to them not catching the ball well. In turn it meant some better field position which the Gaijin could look to exploit.
At the half both teams looked not to unhappy with their performances, and the TGRFC still felt they were in the hunt at 19 - 3. Though Harris was still in the bin at the start of the second half the TGRFC was confident they would not let in points if they could get hands on ball. At this stage the Supermen were clearly not enjoying the attention levels of the Gaijin forwards and had words to the referee to that effect at halftime. This is a huge credit to the Gaijin Tight 5.
The best memory of the second half was the slick try that they TGRFC scored from set-phase ball off a scrum that put Chihara under the posts virtually untouched. Perhaps some continuity in backline personnel was starting to pay dividends as it was the first set-phase try by the backs in a long while. This closed the gap but there would be no further points for the Gaijin.
Some of the decisions by the referee continued to astound. When the referee blew up a legitimate charge-down attempt by the Gaijin, he then split seconds later let the player snap an attempt and allowed the points when it amazingly went over. Though the officials on the sideline admitted this was not allowed, the points stood.
Changes late in the game was the sideline players of Junnosuke Nakamura, Gaijin returnee Mark Ward, Blake Walker and James Mitchell get on in the backs, and Warren Adamson, Andy Ballard and Bati Apasai get on in the forwards. Mark Ward who was playing again for the Gaijin after at least 8 years away would also receive a yellow card late in the game for cynical play and slapping down the pass when the Superman were on their way to the tryline.
All reserves had played positively but it was not enough to stem the flow of Superman who surged home late in the game due to superior fitness and what is clearly the fruits of superior preparation time. Three of the last four tries that were piled on in the last quarter were from rolling mauls. Superman formed these well and were virtually impossible to stop legally. However it was a credit to the frustrated Gaijin who had clearly forced their opponents to resort to a less attractive style of rugbny in order to pick up points.
The team was disappointed with the final scoreline and know that it didn't reflect the effort and the contribution that the TGRFC had made in making the game memorable. This frustration was most effectively displayed when the normally respectful figure of Hitoshi Chihara piped up and chastised the Superman captain for being in the ear of the referee all day.
Thanks as always to all helpers, family and friends that came out on April 25th to assist their team in the Tokyo Cup campaign of 2010. Your efforts are always greatly appreciated though it may not always be shown.
Starting Team list.
1. Chris Lucas (Australia)
2. Tomo Togo (Japan)
3. Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)
4. Richard O'Shea (Wales)
5. Mauro Sauco (Argentina)
6. Murray Clarke (New Zealand)
7. Dai Richards (Wales)
8. Joffa Harris (Australia)
9. Rory Brown (South Africa)
10. Matt Downer (New Zealand)
11. Ikuo Fukuda (Japan)
12. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
13. Jyoh Iwasaki (Japan)
14. Daisuke Ikegami (Japan)
15. Mike Ryan (New Zealand)
16. Warren Adamson (South Africa)
17. Bati Apasai (Fiji)
18. Andy Ballard (England)
19. Blake Walker (New Zealand)
20. James Mitchel (Wales)
21. Mark Ward (England)
22. Junnosuke Nakamura (Japan)
Goat of the Match: A dishonourable mention to Rob Poulton for not even turning up, so the beer was passed on to Chris Lucas to drink.
Man of the Match: Dai Richards for a tireless 80 minutes and Matt Downer for a big performance at 10.