Dateline: 16th October, 2011
On a day when a trans-Tasman clash was the focus for many rugby followers the world over, it was on the fields of Inagi where the Tokyo Gaijin were meeting the All Jin Jan (AJJ) team for a competition defining match of their own.
Conditions were perfect, if not a touch warm with the conditions reaching record temperatures in some areas of Tokyo for this time of year. It meant that there would be no excuse for dropped balls or a lack of running rugby.
The Gaijin kicked off and put in some good early hits on the opposition pack to show that they were up for the physical side of the game and looking to set the benchmark. Despite this early physical showing it was the classy AJJ backs that got first points. The AJJ #10 cleared the ball long and was lucky when the ball was fumbled deep in the Gaijin half. They did well to win a ruck turnover but another knock on gifted the AJJ with an attacking scrum in good position. Quick ball from the scrum as it was starting to go backwards caught the Gaijin unawares and they sniped down the blind for a converted try. AJJ went up 7 - 0.
The response was quick and direct. The referee, in which would become slightly confusing decisions to all players and spectators, liked to award re-start penalties for obstruction. The Gaijin were working smoothly at ruck time and presenting good clean go-forward ball. Some offside play close to the line gave the team fantastic position about 5m in from the left hand AJJ tryline. A sneaky tap and pop from captain Al Nimmo to a surging Nik Pavesic saw him plow over to put the first 5 on the board for the Gaijin. 7-5.
Letting the ball bounce from a restart is a no-no, but this is exactly what the Gaijin did. Fortunately the ball bounced kindly and the gaijin sprung into attack again.
The 1st stanza could probably be awarded to AJJ on a points decision, though they would be disappointed to not be further in-front after having a lot of territory.
Hiroyuki Ikeuchi made an excellent try-saving tackle near the left hand touchline to deny the AJJ winger scooting in for another try. They could not be held out much longer with further opportunities on attack and the added pressure finally telling. The stand off, who was the catalyst for most of the go forward play in the AJJ backline, waltzed through a yawning gap to dot down just to the left of the posts and convert his own try for a 14 - 5 scoreline.
Things were not going well for the Gaijin back 3 with AJJ making some big yards upfield courtesy of lazy rugby errors. Fullback David Middleditch fumbled the ball into touch when he took an eye off the ball to survey attacking options. The internal telling off he gave himself worked however as he came back into the game soon after. Clean phasework by the forwards was producing the ball on a platter. The try scored by Middleditch gliding over in the corner came about by sheer weight of numbers, though nice draw and pass work along the backline did make the try look easier. 14-10
The pea in the whistle must have been stuck from the re-start, but the referee did well to blow it free and unfortunately most on the field confused his desire to clear his throat with that of an unbelievably ridiculous decision. As if that was possible!
David Chan, had a big role in the next try with strong work on his feet in behind the AJJ defensive line meaning he could pick his runner. The speed of the phase ball was another important pre-cursor to the try. Toshi Miyano spun a beatiful flat ball wide and with Pavesic on it again he chose to stay away from the sideline where an industrious Brian O'Brien was working hard to get in position. Instead the ball was popped on the inside to Gaijin club stalwart Hitoshi Chihara. He sprinted 35+metres for the try. Again the try went unconverted and the Gaijin were looking at a break with a 1 point lead. Score: 15 v 14.
While the place kicking was not going so well, Toshi's field of play kicking was smooth and a well placed chip kick over the line and recovery put the Gaijin into the AJJ half with a chance at 3 points from a penalty. Though the kick was missed the writing was on the wall for an exciting 2nd half.
"Dont Panic! " was the catchphrase to be taken from the half-time chat along with the message of discipline being the key to winning the game. It was put into practice well from the whistle at the start of the 2nd half and the Gaijin spent a long time on attack. They did not make the most of their advantage however with numerous opportunities to spin the ball wide with numbers. Unfortunately when the decision was taken to go wide, JJ had scrambled numbers effectively and spoiled the attack enough to win a defensive penalty.
Something that was becoming increasingly evident from about the 25 min mark of the 1st half was the exceptional handling skills of the Gaijin players. An example of tiptoing down the sideline with ball on a string was served up by Miyano, Pavesic and Liam Ramshaw. This was followed soon after by a penalty about 20m in from the touch line and about 10m out. A jinking run with some hungry runners off his shoulder and Miyano was able to pop several dummies and go over untouched. The try took the score out to 20 - 14.
The loose forwards were beginning to have a field day and the combination of a hard tackling Hiroyuki Ikeuchi at No. 8, the scavenging and support play of blindside Dan Wordon and the out and out pace round the field of Shinichiro Nakayama on the openside, not to mention him punching well above his weight for yardage was allowing the Gaijin runners to make some big forays deep into the AJJ red zone. New Canadian back Rod Mc Donald chimed onto a perfect pop ball and was able to grab 5 pointsunder the posts in his first game for the TGRFC from one such foray. Finally, with a try converted, the score was looking more comfortable at 27 - 14.
A quick reply of a converted try by AJJ was able to stem the flow of points from the Gaijin, but not for long. 27 - 21.
Joffa Harris popped up to take a mark at fullback after the AJJ inside backs had threated to make the Gaijin pay for lazy restart defense. He took the ball comfortably well and was a little aggrieved at the attention he received from the incoming tackle after he had clearly called for the mark. In his own special way he pointed out that it wasnt a very sporting tackle.
Shinichiro Nakayama had pace to burn on the wing from a tap penalty and hands on the left flank and when he scored with about 15 mins to go in the 2nd half, the Gaijin looked to have the game in the bag. 32 - 21.
Harris again popped up in the backline in the later stages and he cleverly put in a big raking kick that forced the AJJ to retreat and try and clear the ball from his own 22m area. Another replacement on the field was the brother of the earlier try-scorer from Canada, Stuart McDonald, and he chased well on the wing to create pressure. It was the man coming all the way across from the other wing. A penalty for holding on and soon after that it was opposite winger Brian O'Brien who dotted down for a 5 pointer. The score was now 37 - 21 to the Gaijin.
The touch judge from the AJJ team then managed to gain my disapproval when he stole an extra 15 metres for his team from a deadball kick. Stu McDonald had chased well but a heavy foot saw the ball go into touch over the dead ball line. When the touch judge decided to give me a be quiet finger to the mouth, it was appropriately pointed out that his team was losing and "cheats never prosper".
And neither they did, with less than 5 on the clock the brilliant hands of the Gaijin team were once again displayed. Takashi Tanikawa, O'Brien and Nakayama had a beautiful interplay of passes and put Welsh lock Richard O'Shea through to finish off the game. Poor O'shea was feeling the ill effects from drinking his sorrows away the night before (courtesy of Wales losing to France in the World Cup) and although he released a few drinking demons before kick-off from the night before, he played a solid and resourceful full 80 minutes.
The final score of 42 - 21 to the Gaijin was a great result in a game that has traditionally been one of the tighter clashes in the Shuto League competition.
Thanks to all helpers, supporters and team members who came on the day to support the team.
Tokyo Gaijin: 42 (Nik Pavesic, Dave Middleditch, Hitoshi Chihara, Toshi Miyano, Rod McDonald, Shinichiro Nakayama, Brian O'Brien, Richard O'Shea tries; Toshi Miyano 1/7, Yamagen 0/1) All Jin Jan 21 (3 tries, 3/3 conversions).
Man of the Match:
Tokyo Gaijin Team:
1. Chris Lucas (Aus)
2. Liam Ramshaw (Eng)
3. Gaz Dalrymple (Scotland)
4. Richard O'Shea (Wales)
5. Nik Pavesic (Croatia)
6. Dan Worden (NZ)
7. Shinichiro Nakayama (Japan)
8. Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (Japan)
9. Al Nimmo (Eng)
10. Toshi Miyano (Japan)
11. Brian O'Brien (USA)
12. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
13. David Chan (Aus)
14. Joao Pinto (Portugal)
15. Dave Middleditch (Eng)
Reserves Used: Mosese Rarasea (Fiji), Takeshi Koba (Japan), Joffa Harris (Aus), Takashi Tanikawa (Japan), Rod McDonald (Canada), Stuart McDonald (Canada), Wataru Sato (Japan), Semi Leiene (Fiji), Yamagen (Japan)