Dateline: Sunday, 30th January, 2011
The Tokyo Gaijin RFC traditionally fill up the January & February months with 'Friendlies' as there are no 'Official' competitions over these mid-Winter months. It is also a good time to get inexperienced players more game time. The match against Waseda Old Boys was always going to be one of the tougher 'Friendlies' and a big learning curve for the 'greener' players. Waseda Old Boys is a misnomer as the players are much younger than the Gaijin in average age. It simply means that they have played for the powerhouse Waseda University rugby team.
The Waseda Old Boys were obviously treating this as a warm-up for their tilt at the Tokyo Cup First Division, in their bid to be repeat winners. They warmed up with great gusto and had their whiteboard out going over plays. They were also probably expecting a very tough game after overcoming the Gaijin in a tight 7 v 0 in the wet in the Tokyo Cup last year. The Gaijin on the other hand were decidedly understrength and using this game to blood newcomers and give more game time to inexperienced players.
Scrumhalf Tristan O'Connor was having just his second game with the Gaijin, while Guissepe Ingiglii was having his last game with the Gaijin before heading back to Sicily, and hoping to add to his 60 minutes of rugby experience. The Gaijin were also welcoming back Lonnie Childress after 6 months out with shoulder problems and two new Japanese players in Takeshi 'Ken' Koba and Shinichiro Nakayama. With ex-captain and hooker Tomo Togo (brother's wedding commitments) and Liam Ramshaw (influenza) out, the Gaijin were struggling to fill the void at hooker. New boy Takeshi (Editor's Note: Apparently he's a lock or No.8) put up his hands to help out.
The Waseda Old Boys began in style with quick efficient cleanouts and wave after wave of attacking plays one or two off the ruck. They were supremely well drilled and the Gaijin tacklers were getting plenty of practise. Just 5 minutes into the game prop Simon Palm went down in pain and had to be carried off the field in what was later confirmed to be a Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) injury, which will put the German's rugby career back 3 months. This caused a major upheaval in the Gaijin's ranks as they only had two props at the game. Takeshi, once again put his hand up to fill the void with Blake Walker moving from the centres to hooker, and Lonnie Childress coming onto the field at outside centre.
The Waseda OB's scored soon after, with their left side winger going through some flimsy defense to score. The conversion was missed making the score 5 v 0 to Waseda.
From the kickoff, Henry Bird managed to tap the ball back to his forwards and the Gaijin were soon on a roll. Bird was in the action again soon after with a good 30 metre break after bumping off a few would-be tacklers. Unfortunately a quick steal from a ruck slowed the Gaijin momentum and gave the ball back to Waseda.
Soon after fullback Yamagen booted the ball 40 metres down field and the Waseda fullback knocked on to give the Gaijin a handy territorial gain. Waseda were able to work their way out of their half and were soon putting pressure on the TGRFC line. From a 5 metre lineout the Waseda forwards rolled towards the Gaijin line but Richard O'Shea managed to stop the final drive and Joe Nawaquavua held up a Waseda forward over the line. No try! From the scrum the Waseda Club went left and a big hit from the Gaijin's Henry Bird on his opposite number forced a knock-on in what was the tackle of the day. However, the whistle-happy referee brought the ball back to the right sideline for a penalty. The Waseda forwards then rolled over the line from the lineout to increase their lead to 12 v 0 after a successful conversion.
The Gaijin were then kept in their own half for a fair amount of time due to a plethora of penalites against them. One was left wondering about the referee's view of the game though, when he completely missed a lineout throw from Waseda that was half a metre from the outstretched hands of the outside hand of a Waseda player. Some of the ruck decisions could have also gone either way with both teams guilty of 'hands in the ruck' and players not rolling away, but Waseda were cashing in on a big penlty count in their favor.
The Gaijin scrum, despite having been weakened by the loss of Palm, continued to dominate and forced a few resets with tunover ball to the Gaijin and also won a few against the head, but ultimately, penalties would negate from these gains.
Superiority in numbers and superioir speed had the Waseda team on the scoreboard again as the half ticked away with the opposite winger this time, racing to the right corner to outflank all the Gaijin defenders. The conversion was missed but Waseda Old Boys had a handy lead now at 17 v 0.
Just before the halftime break a nice run down the right sideline by Blake Walker showed some promise. He managed to slip the ball back inside to the supporting Brian O'Brien and the play went on for a few more rucks but ultimately the Gaijin lost the ball in a ruck due to superior ruck work by the Waseda boys.
At halftime, the Waseda Old Boys were well on top on the scoreboard but the Gaijin had showed promise and the newer boys of the side had held up well considering the gap in experience. In the forwards, captain Richard O'Shea and fellow lock Alex Glover had got through a mountain of work and Joe Nawaquavanua and Paulo de Berriozabal had tackled everything that moved. Halfback Tristan O'Connor was gaining confidence as the game wore on and marshalling his forwards well. Toshi Miyano was keeping the defense guessing with cheeky little runs and Henry Bird was having a great game out in the centres and causing the defense trouble every time he ran the ball, and backing that up with solid defense.
The Gaijin started the second half the better team. Henry Bird continued to brush off defenders and was responsible for the first break of the second half. He fed the ball to Guiseppe Ingiglii who made a nice 20 metre run through the defense as he cut back infield, but he was enveloped by the covering defense. Further consistent ruck play had the Gaijin camped in the Waseda half. The pressure finally paid off with Toshi Miyano dummying his way through the defense to score under the posts untouched. Yamagen inexplicable hit the posts from in front to leave the Gaijin behind 17 v 5.
After a further solid period of dominace by the Gaijin forwards some soft defense from the Gaijin backs allowed the Waseda club to increase their lead. A few outside backs hung off their tackles and fullback Yamagen bought a dummy and the Waseda outside centre was in under the posts. The successful conversion put the Waseda OB's out to a 24 v 5 lead.
The Gaijin were next to score when the Fijian combination of Apisai Bati, who had come on into the centres at halftime, and Joe Nawaquavanua bamboozled the defense. Bati ran across field and switched an inside ball to the straight running Nawaquavanua who brushed off a tackler and ran 40 metres to round the cover defense and score under the posts. Henry Bird coverted to make the score a more respectable 24 v 12.
The Waseda Club was to have the last laugh though with a soft try up the belly of the Gaijin defense. From an onlooker's point of view it could only be described as feeble defense but onlookers found out later that the referee had actually stopped play but the Waseda club took a quick tap penalty while everyone was standing around playing to the whistle and the referee let the try stand, despite protests from the Gaijin squad. The conversion from just to the left of the posts was successful leaving the final score 31 v 12.
The lack of experience in the Gaijin side was on display from the restart when the Gaijin backs failed to move up with the forwards from the kickoff. Waseda simply threw the ball wide and found oodles of space and were only stopped from scoring by a great cover tackle from Henry Bird metres out from the Gaijin tryline. The Gaijin managed to win the lineout and hold out the Waseda OB's, who were looking for more blood to finish the game.
It was a vastly superior second half effort from the Gaijin but they were simply outclassed overall by a well-drilled Waseda outfit. One might say that the Gaijin held parity with Waseda OB's in the second half and considering the number of new players, it was a gutsy effort. Waseda's quick ruck ball and wave after wave of attackers was good to watch. They also slightly dominated the lineouts too. The Gaijin scrum, however, dominated that particular set piece. The Gaijin were often too guilty of not valuing possession and gave Waseda easy turnover ball at rucks and through basic knock-ons. The referee was a thorn in the Gaijin side and made some 'unusual' decisions, often to Waseda's advantage.
For the Gaijin, Henry Bird stood out in the backs, constantly breaking tackles, and Joe Nawaquavanua would have gone close to being the best player on the field with some barging runs and strong defense, but Toshi Miyano was adjudged Man of the Match for his constant breaks through the defense just off the ruck and his marshalling of a rather 'greenish' looking backline. He also put through and regathered some clever little chip kicks, ala Matthew Downer, to keep the Waseda boys from quickly rushing up in defense. New boys Takeshi Koba & Shinichiro Nakayama showed great promise with Takeshi looking like a very valuable 'utility' player and Shinichiro stealing some good turnover ball at ruck time.
SCORE: Waseda OB's 31 (5 tries, 3/5 conversions) TGRFC 12 ( Toshi Miyano 1, Joe Nawaquavanua 1 tries, Yamagen 0/1, Henry Bird 1/1 conversions)
Man of the Match: Toshi Miyano
1. Simon Palm (Germany)
2. Takeshi Koba (Japan)
3. Tsukasa Takasugi (Japan)
4. Richard O'Shea (c) (Wales)
5. Alex Glover (England)
6. Joe Nawaquavanua (Fiji)
7. Aaron Nutsford (NZ)
8. Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)
9. Tristan O'Connor (Australia)
10. Toshi Miyano (Japan)
11. Guiseppe Ingiglii (Italy)
12. Blake Walker (NZ)
13. Henry Bird (NZ)
14. Brian O'Brien (USA)
Reserves: Natsuhiko Kunitomo (Japan); Joffa Harris (Australia); Shinichiro Nakayama (Japan); Apisai Bati (Fiji); Charles Joffre (France); Lonnie Childress (USA)