Dateline: 5th September
The Tokyo Gaijin RFC, typically slow starters to the season, gathered at Yanokuchi for their first game of the Shuto League against the Gentle Giants RFC. Despite having thrashed the Gentle Giants in the same encounter last year, the Gaijin knew that on this day it would be a tougher challenge as the Giants had picked up some new players. The Gaijin were also hoping to get their campaign off to a good start after having been pipped for the Championship by All Jin Jan last year on For and Against.
With a kickoff at 2:40pm in the middle of the heat and humidity of the Japanese summer, water intake was to be very important. The pitch at Yanokuchi was also in bad need of water with mini-tornados across the pitch causing dust storms.
The game was to mark a change in leadership of the Gaijin with Tomo Togo stepping into the Captaincy role after the departure of previous captain Matt Downer to professional club Lion. Not only were they missing Downer, a lynchpin of the backline, but also speedy fullback Mike Ryan, who also took up a semi-pro contract at Lion. Downer's kicking was to be sorely missed as the team would later find out.
From the outset it was easy to see that the Gaijin forward pack was far superior and the front foot ball helped the team dominate territory and possession. Around the 10 minute mark the Gaijin scrum completely demolished the Gentle Giants scrum on the Gentle Giants feed. Number 8, Joffa Harris, was surprised to see the ball come tumbling out from the dust and stampede of feet in front of him, He picked up the ball and went down a wide blind on the left for a 10 metre burst and plunged over the line. The try was a true forwards try courtesy of great scrummaging by the tight five. The conversion by Toshi was unsuccessful. Score: 5 v 0 to the Gaijin.
Not long after Joffa got a double when Hitoshi Chihara made a mid-field break and offloaded back inside to Toshi. Toshi managed to offload in the tackle by the fullback to the supporting Harris who fended off the winger and scored a little to the left of his previous try. The conversion was unsuccessful. Score: 10 v 0 to the Gaijin.
As the half wore on the big gaijin forwards started to tire and a string of ruck infringements gifted the Gentle Giants field position. After some strong charges just wide of the ruck had sucked in Gaijin defenders, they went wide to the right were defenders were scarce and their right side winger dotted down in the corner from what looked like a marginally forward pass. They missed the conversion leaving the score 10 v 5 to the Gaijin. Game on!
The penalties continued against the Gaijin and the Gentle Giants had three consecutive shots at goal. Two were successful, while the third struck the post and rebounded back into the field of play but was safely disposed of to touch.
So at halftime, with the score at 11 v 10 to the Gentle Giants, one could only wonder why the score clearly didn't show the dominance of the Gaijin side. They had been camped inside the Gentle Giants half for long periods of the first half and it was only late in the half that they began to tire. Opportunities were wasted and they would need to make the most of their chances in the second half to come out on top in this game.
The Gentle Giants, however, were the first to trouble the scorers from a chip kick over the backline. The fullback Blake Walker, was a yard or two too slow to get to it on the full and the winger Ikuo Fukuda could not retire fast enough to get to the ball either. The unusually flat bounce evaded both and the Gentle Giants winger coming through regathered to outscoot all defenders in a run to the line. This left GG up by 18 - 10.
Apisai Bati, who had replaced Joffa Harris at halftime, had made some impressive runs and was finally rewarded with a bustling run from No. 8, brushing off defenders as he went. This time Blake Walker stepped up to take the shot but it was the same result... a missed conversion. Score: 18 v 15 to the Gentle Giants.
Andy Ballard was to cap off the scoring for the TGRFC when he fell on a loose ball over the tryline. Toshihiro Uematsu could have scored it but didn't realise he was already over the line and just threw the ball backwards in the tackle. None will come easier for Ballard. Once again the conversion was unsuccessful, but the Gaijin were back in front 20 v 18 with just 3 minutes remaining.
It was to be a dreadful final three minutes for the Gaijin where mistakes were to cost them dearly. Andy ballrd was straight back into the action, taking the kickoff. Unfortunately he was caught up high with the ball and despite the maul going forward, the Gentle Giants came away with the ball. They immediately spun it wide to the right and after going through 5 or 6 sets of hands and beating a few tackles the Gentle Giants were in in the corner to grab the lead at the death. With time ticking away there was barely time after the kickoff ???????
The Gentle Giants had struggled in the scrum all day but they tackled well and did the simple things right. The Gaijin had dominated the first half and absolutely smashed the Gentle Giants scrum but in the second half the Giants earned more parity. The Gaijin will need to focus on the amount of silly penalties they are giving away as ultimately that, and the the costly misses at goal, cost them dearly. They will be looking forward to the return of a reliable goalkicker next game in Matt Stride.
For the Gaijin Dave Kelver had battled hard all day but he was pipped for Man of the Match honours by Simon Palm who had a strong game at prop. What is even more impressive about Palm is that he is only in his first year of rugby and has a promising future in the game.
While it was far from the promising start the Gaijin were looking for, there was some consolation when they picked up 2 bonus points - one for finishing within 7 and the other for getting 4 tries. These will be valuable in the later part of the season. They will be hoping that the disappointing loss hasn't put a hiccup in their season. Bring on All Jain Jan!
SCORE: Gentle Giants 23 (3 tries, 1/3 conversions, 2/3 penalties) TGRFC 20 ( Joffa Harris 2, Apisai Bati 1, Andy Ballard 1 tries, Toshi 0/3 goals, B.Walker 0/1 goals)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Simon Palm
1. Warren Adamson (South Africa)
2. Tomo Togo (Japan)
3. Simon Palm (Germany)
4. Jesse Takahashi (USA)
5. Mauro Sauco (Argentina)
6. David Johnson (Wales)
7. Dave Kelver (USA)
8. Joffa Harris (Australia)
9. Alaister Nimmo (England)
10. Toshi (Japan)
11. Charles Joffree (France)
12. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
13. Mogee Mosene (Fiji)
14. Ikuo Fukuda (Japan)
15. Blake Walker (New Zealand)
Reserves used: Chris Lucas (Australia); Andy Ballard (England); Apisai Bati (Fiji); Yamagen (Japan);Wataru (Japan); Daisuke Ikegami (Japan); Toshihiro Uematsu (Japan); Jeff Takahashi (Japan)