Tokyo Gaijin 29 Ichihara Club 7
On a blustery, bone-chilling day at the neutral Idemitsu Oil ground, the Gaijin took some time to warm up in this deciding match for the Ichihara League title. Murray Clarke opted to play in tights, and was relegated to the bench, but those with naked legs at first struggled to find the incision and power needed to tack upwind.
It looked like the weather might create a stale-mate, with only Dave Kelver oblivious to the conditions as he featured prominently in open play. The backs then re-considered captain Joe Fisher?s assertion that this was no day for champagne rugby. Throwing caution to the increasingly bitter wind, the speed and elusiveness of outside duo Ian Roy and Heats Devlin at least signalled the possibility of some fizzy Lambrusco rugby. After making several useful practice incursions that came to nothing, the two thinsters combined yet again from long range for Roy to open the scoring under the posts.
Blake Walker stepped up to take the conversion, and once more demonstrated a perfect match of mind and matter. Both could do with improvement. Unable to master the wind with his kicking, he was so angry (psychologically resilient) that from the re-start he sold an outrageous dummy and made a sinuous break upfield to set up position for the Gaijin?s second try.
After a couple of effective rucks, the forwards at last using their weight to clear out some experienced defenders, the returning Kitahara showed his strength to crash over from close range.
In the second half with the wind in their favour, the Gaijin played a cannier game, pumping the ball into the corner in an attempt to avoid any contact with the referee. This wasn?t entirely successful, but with Shaunne Hughes sneaking the opposition line-out ball and the front five dominant, the Gaijin could cope with any number of set pieces awarded against them.
Takayuki Kitajima and Yukio Suyama led from the front, and the Ichihara club simply couldn?t escape their own half, except to score an unlikely try. The Gaijin then turned on the style, doing what they do best with backs and forwards interchanging passes at speed. Joe Fisher remained a flawless link in the loose, and Joffa got up some wind-assisted speed to cause his customary havoc.
The points were bound to follow, and sure enough, Beard ghosted over for a score after good work from debutant Blair Parkin in the centre. Looking entirely comfortable in his first game for the club, he then transformed pressure into points by seizing on some local panic to score. The final try went to Jyoh Iwasaki, using a brutal hand-off to complete a trademark finish down the wing.
Unbeaten in this league, the Gaijin were pronounced champions. A certificate will be forthcoming, apparently exchangeable for a game of pachinko at many reputable parlours.
The club is especially grateful to Steve Bull, who after the last-minute collapse of the Santama league organised and managed our entry into this set of enjoyable games in Chiba. Steve, the debt is great, and unlikely ever to be repaid.
Man of the match: Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)