Dateline: January 16th, 2011
The Tokyo Gaijin RFC and their supporters gathered at Akigase Koen out in Urawa on a bitterly cold Sunday to play their last game of the 2010 Shuto League against All Jin Jan - a match that had been delayed due to a rain washout. The final clash of the 2010 Shuto League was basically a Grand Final as the two teams were even on points. All Jin Jan, despite losing to the Gaijin last year, ended up as League Champions after the Gaijin dropped a game to the cellar-dwelling Fuji Club. The Gaijin had also bested All Jin Jan again earlier in 2010 by beating them in injury time to win the 2010 Shuto 10's in a rivetting final and again in the first game of the Sugadaira 7's a week later. The teams are developing a strong rivalry and the closeness of past matches meant that this game was going to be a cracker.
The All Jin Jan (AJJ) kicked the game off with what looked like a 20 point wind at their backs and spent the first 10 minutes camped in the Gaijin half with some judicious kicking. The first scrum however, showed that the All Jin Jan eight were going to struggle in this set piece as the Gaijin shoved them backwards, but the AJJ No 8 still managed to get the ball out. AJJ got within 10 metres of the Gaijin line but good defense forced a turnover.
In the second scrum of the game the AJJ were monstered and shoved backwards like they were on skates but once again the No.8 managed to clear the ball. The TGRFC backup props on the sideline were wetting their pants in anticipation. In the inside-backs, Matt Downer, came up with some bone-rattling tackles.
Another big scrum from the Gaijin resulted in a tight head and saw Paulo de Berriozabal come out with it. Some determ,ined charges by the Gaijin forwards helped the team edge their way into the AJJ side of halfway. With AJJ on the back foot, standoff Toshi Himano, threw a dummy and went through a hole in the backline. As he came to the fullback a neat inside pass to Blake Walker, running a clever angled run back in towards the posts, resulted in a try just to the left of the posts for the Gaijin. Henry Bird missed the conversion from close range but the Gaijin were out to a 5v0 lead after AJJ had had all the territory, assisted by the strong wind at their back.
Almost straight from the ensuing kickoff the Gaijin looked threatening again when Matt Downer chipped ahead and managed to regather the bouncing ball in heavy traffic and deliver a nice little pop pass to supporting lock Alex Glover as the defense closed in on him. Glover made another 30 metres upfield before being tackled from behind by the AJJ winger. Unfortunately for the Gaijin, the play broke down a few phases later.
Glover was involved again in the next break when an AJJ long lineout went a bit awry and young Alex went charging away with it. Another chip kick moments later by Matt Downer was toed ahead and the last AJJ defender could only manage to knock it on under heavy pressure from a wall of Gaijin attackers to force a scrum inside the AJJ 22 metre line. The Gaijin then pounded away at the AJJ tryline only to be thwarted by good defense and tunnel vision. A try went begging after players got too hungry and took charges at the line and ignored sizeable overlaps. Eventually prop Tsukasa Takasugi was held up over the line resulting in a 5 metre scrum. AJJ managed to win the scrum and shuffle the ball out followed by a kick downfield.
It was then AJJ's turn to go close to the opposition's tryline. They received a scrum 5 metres out from the Gaijin tryline aftre a charge-down of Henry Bird's kick. The Gaijin scrum overpowered the AJJ scrum forcing sloppy ball at the back and Bird made up for his earlier mistake when he belted the opposition halfback and his forward pack did the rest of the work by marching over the top of the ball. Soon after, Joe pushed off 3 would-be tacklers to race down the wing and then score under the posts, showing good speed for a big man. Henry Bird converted from in front extending the Gaijin lead to 12v0.
The Gaijin then went further ahead when Matt Downer ran 40 metres on an angled run back towards the previous ruck, pushed off a couple of tacklers, and outsprinted the cover defense to the corner. Downer took the conversion from way out on the touch line and went close into the howling gale, but was ultimately unsuccessful. At the risk of being sent to the blood bin, Henry Bird was too busy wiping off the blood streaming down his elbow to take the shot. He was also developing quite a big shiner, courtesy of a stray elbow.
So the score at halftime was 17 v 0 to the Tokyo Gaijin. I think it would not be too far off the mark to say that all and sundry at the field were surprised by the big lead after running into a howling wind. All Jin Jan had certainly not disgraced themselves and had created a few half chances but excellent defense had denied them. The Gaijin pack was particularly dominant in the scrum and also had a slight edge in the lineouts. The rucks and mauls were fairly even and the backlines were still sorting each other out. For the Gaijin, it was hard to pick a standout forward as every member of the pack was working hard. Joe Nawaqavanua & Paulo de Berriozabal were particularly savage in defense. In the backs Henry Bird was causing headaches for the defense at the edge of the rucks with constant snipes and Matt Downer was leading the backs with some fantastic dominant tackles.
Despite a big reserves bench and the unlimited replacements rule of the Shuto League, only three changes were made at halftime in the interests of not upsetting the flow of the game. Fijian flyer Semi Leiene came on for Blake Walker at fullback, Andy ballard came on for the hard-working Alex Glover at lock, and Ikuo Fukuda came on for Wataru Sato on the wing.
The first points of the second half came from a cynical play by AJJ. After a kick downfield and a good chase by the Gaijin, Toshi Miyano was knocked over by an All Jin Jan player a long way from the ball. The Gaijin took a scrum for the penalty. Semi Leiene at fullback come into the line in a timely fashion and troubled the defense with some quick footwork wide of the ruck. He fed the bal nicely to big Joe Nawaqavanua who pushed off a few players to burst over the line and score. Bird was unsuccessful with the conversion leaving the Gaijin 22 v 0 in front.
The Gaijin then went further ahead soon after when Matt Downer made big yards upfield and passed off to Nawaqavanua who finished it off. Big Joe now had a hatrick. The conversion was unsuccessful but the Gaijin were now out to a 29 v 0 lead with a roaring wind at their backs for the rest of the game. It would take a gambling man to think that the Gaijin didn't have the game in the bag.
All Jin Jan had other thoughts though and kept battling on and even seemed to up their intensity. After a big kick downfield by Richard O'Shea the AJJ fullback returned it with interest, beating quite a few tackles before he was eventually pulled down. AJJ trundled their way upfield but eventually turned the ball over to the Gaijin. A nice backline move, then some excellent footwork by fullback Semi Leiene and then a no look pass to fellow Fijian Nawaqavanua led to Big Joe scooting the final 30 meters to score under the posts for his 4 th try of the game. Bird converted to put the Gaijin out ot a very handy 36 v 0 lead.
After some rampaging forward work the Gaijin were over again when prop Tsukasa Takasugi reeled off the back of a ruck to dive over the line. The conversion was missed but the Gaijin were home and hosed at 43 v 0.
Takasugi was to make it a double soon after. Following a Apisai Bati box kick from the base of a scrum, the Gaijin strung together 4 or 5 passes down a narrow blind with Takasugi crashing through the final tackler to touch down. It was a just reward for the excellent scrummaging he had produced in helping to smash the AJJ scrum backwards all day. The conversion was once again unsuccessful. The score: 48 v 0.
The temptation for the Gaijin was to not make any further changes and try to keep All Jin Jan scoreless and get another bonus point, after having already gained one bonus point for scoring 4 tries. This would give them massive bragging rights and send a message to the League that when they had their best team on the field, no-one in the League could beat them. But with the game in the bag and a big reserve bench the decision was made to start rolling substitutions.
AJJ also obviously knew that they had yet to score and came out with all guns blazing in an attempt to correct the situation. After a lot of phases and some loose Gaijin defense they eventually did score under the posts and succeeded with the conversion to make the score 48 v 7.
They were not finished either when shoddy marker defense by prop Chris Lucas, who hadn't been on the field long, allowed the AJJ halfback to throw a dummy and then go straight through the middle of the ruck and scoot 10 metres to score untouched. The conversion was missed making the score 48 v 12.
AJJ then made the score a little more respectable when their substitute fullback ran down the right side of the field on a 60 metre run, beating three Gaijin tacklers, to score under the posts. The conversion made the final score 48 v 19.
The Gaijin replacements hadn't finished the good work done by the starting squad and let themselves down with poor defense, but having made 14 changes to the starting team was always going to affect the rythm of the team. All Jin Jan never gave up and showed that with the last three tries of the game. It had been a tough fixture with quite a lot of blood spilt. Prop Warren Adamson had been taken away in an ambulance with a broken nose, Andy Ballard had been replaced with a tennis ball sized lump on his ankle and Henry Bird looked like he had been in a war zone with a big black eye that was almost closed by the end of the game.
For the Gaijin, the whole forward pack had worked hard and completely dominated AJJ in the set pieces. The backs were well marshalled by the halves combination of Henry Bird and Toshi Miyano with Matt Downer providing the steadying influence and defensive mongrel at inside centre. It was hard to pick a Man of the Match as so many had performed well and the management decided on joint Men of the Match in 4 try scorer Joe Nawaqavanua and the tireless Henry Bird.
In the wrap-up, Captain Tomo Togo had this to say " With the likes of Bati, Joffa (last year's top try-scorer), Andy (last year's second top try-scorer) etc. on the forward's bench it was always going to be the pack that would dictate the flow of the game. As with the latter half of last year, the Gaijin scrum set the platform for the victory. In the first half alone, we won three against the head and always pushed them back. A combination of incisive, skilled running by the backs and some no-nonsense, abrasive recycling by the forwards, the Gaijin were up (only?!) 17-0 in the 1st Half."
Score: TGRFC 48 (Joe Nawaqavanua 4, Tsukasa Takasugi 2, Blake Walker 1, Matt Downer 1, Henry Bird 4/7 , Matt Downer 0/1 conversions)v All Jin Jan 19 (3 tries, 2/3 conversions)
Man of Match: Joe Nawaqavanua; Henry Bird
1. Warren Adamson (South Africa)
2. Tomo Togo (c) (Japan)
3. Tsukasa Takasugi (Japan)
4. Richard O'Shea (Wales)
5. Alex Glover (England)
6. Joe Nawaqavanua (Fiji)
7. Dave Kelver (USA)
8. Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)
9. Henry Bird (NZ)
10.Toshi Miyano (Japan)
11. Wataru Sato (Japan)
12. Matt Downer (NZ)
13. Hitoshi Chihara (vc) (Japan)
14. Jo Iwasaki (Japan)
15. Blake Walker (NZ)
Reserves: Liam Ramshaw (England), Chris Lucas (Australia), Takayuki Kitajima (Japan), Andy Ballard (England), Natsuhiko Kunitomo (Japan), Joffa Harris (Australia), Apisai Bati (Fiji), Ikuo Fukuda (Japan), David Chan (Australia), Semi Leiene (Fiji), Charles Joffre (France), Guiseppe Ingiglli (Italy) Yamagen (Japan), Brian O'Brien (USA)