Dateline: 27th May, 2012

The Tokyo Gaijin RFC (TGRFC) gathered at Edogawa Rinkai Kyugijou ready for the battle of their lives as they faced Tama RFC in the semi final of the 1st Division of the Tokyo Cup. Tama RFC are a very successful club often finishing near the top of the Tokyo Cup and could be considered one of the best amateur teams in Japan, and the TGRFC were making history by being the first TGRFC team to make it to the semi-finals of the Tokyo Cup 1st Division. The TGRFC hadn't played Tama Club for about 10 years when they regularly played them in the Tama League before the Gaijin switched to the Shuto League.

The Gaijin kicked off runniing towards the sea and the Tama standoff immediately kicked downfield using the wind at his back, signalling early that they wanted to play the game in their opposition's half and take full adavantage of the slight wind at their back. The Gaijin were immediately under the pump but were relieved when the first penalty of the game went their way due to one of the Tama forwards coming in the side of a ruck and not 'through the gate'.

The Gaijin were on the good side of the referee early as they got another penalty soon after for the Tama front row popping up in the scrum and when prop John Herger took a quick tap they were penalised once again for not being back ten metres.

The Gaijin then strung together a promising string of multiple phases before centre Mosese Rarasea knocked on.

Tama RFC then went close to the Gaijin line when they kicked for the corner from a penalty for a ruck infringement but Nik Pavesic saved the day when he stole Tama 's ball in the lineout.

The Gaijin worked their way back up to halfway with good rucking, mauling and support play but then Rarasea knocked on the ball again when he was tackled hard on a  crash ball.

By this stage their had been numerous penalties awarded to both sides and while the referee was fair in his judgements it lessened the game as a spectacle of good running rugby and equally good ruck play.

Tama RFC finally capitalised on the territorial advantage they had had thus far when they crashed over from a rolling maul from a line-out. They had kicked into the corner a few times from penalties and the Gaijin defence had held them out but this time they set up a solid rolling maul and a few of their backs joined in. It got a bit fiery with a few loose elbows (and later a claim of an eye gauge) and as the Tama forward pack rumbled over Liam Ramshaw came out swinging. While he wouldn't claim to 'float like a butterfly and sting like a bee' he landed a few punches on his protagonist and almost started an all-in-brawl. He was given a yellow card for his troubles and the Gaijin were down to 14 men for the next 10 minutes. The Gaijin supporters on the sideline, while admittedly biased, thought that yellow cards for both teams would have been the only fair thing to do and were bitterly dissappointed with the decision. The Tama club failed with their conversion but had managed to upstage the TGRFC with the first points of the game to lead 5 v 0.

The Gaijin came out on fire from the restart, feeling agggrieved by the referee's decision. Joe Nawaqavanua, Shinichiro Nakayama and Sam Deroeck were involved in some good yard-making charges before Nik Pavesic, running wide of the ruck area, broke through a tackle to dive over the tryline to get the Gaijin immediately back on level terms at 5 v 5. Toshi Miyano failed with the conversion.

The Tokyo Gaijin hit the front soon after with a well worked try. Fleet-footed Sam Deroeck had been instrumental in getting the Gaijin well into the Tama club's half with a good 40 metre run which was followed by a powerful charge by big Fijian Joe Nawaqavanua. The Gaijin then received a penalty 30 metres out. Toshi Miyano put it into touch and from the line-out a beautifully weighted ball from Miyano saw Takeshi Kawai hit the line on a well timed and well-angled run to score under the posts untouched. Miyano converted to  put the Gaijin out to a 12 v 5 lead.

Not long after Liam Ramshaw rejoined the fray after cooling his heels in the sinbin for ten minutes and the Tama scrum got turned earning the Gaijin a reset with the feed. So it seemed that his absence had not had any ill-effects on the Gaijin with two tries being scored and then an instant scrum advantage when he got back on the field.

The Tama Club were next to score though when they kicked for the corner once again from a Gaijin penalty. They got a good maul going and the player at the back broke off and dived over as the Gaijin pack was back-pedaling. They failed with the conversion but the score was now a very close 12 v 10 to the Gaijin.

A few ruck penalties kept the Tama Club in the Gaijin half for the last 10 minutes of the first half but resolute defense from the Gaijin kept them out. With a minute to go they decided that they needed something to show for their territorial dominance and took a shot at goal from about 25 metres out and virtually  in front of the posts after the Gaijin were penalised for yet another ruck infringement. They duly converted it and then the whistle was blown for half time. with Tama RFC holding a slight lead of 13 v 12.

It had been a good half of rugby from both teams with Tama RFC holding the territorial advantage and being slightly ahead in the penalty count (ie. penalties received). While the Tama Club had scored two tries through their big forwards the Gaijin had scored two 'flashier' tries through running rugby. The Gaijin had played with 14 men for 10 minutes of the half but interestingly had scored two tries when down to 14 men and let in two tries while they had 15 men. It would seem that the yellow card to Liam Ramshaw hadn't really affected the team but the effects of the extra toil would probably show up in the second half as the team tired.

Neither team had asserted real dominance in the scrum but the Tokyo Gaijin RFC's line-out had had some problems and needed to be fixed. In the backs, Toshi Miyano was giving his outside players good service at standoff, and Takeshi Kawai and Sam Deroeck were making good breaks and tackling ferociously. The kicking for touch from penalties needed tto improve as Miyano had failed to find touch on three occassions losing valuable territory and possession.

Overall, the Gaijin would go into the second half feeling reasonably confident that they could snatch a win and go into the finals of the 1st Division for the first time in their 21 year history.

Tama Club came out the stronger in the first part of the second half and spent most of the first ten minutes camped in the Gaijin half of the field. The penalty count kept rising on both sides but the Gaijin were adjudged to be the guiltier party with penalties against them at the ruck including coming in from the side and not releasing the ball after the tackle.

Gareth Palmer came on as a blood-substitute for Richard O'Shea five minutes into the second half and made the most of his short stay getting involved heavily. One memorable tackle saw him attempt to take down the big Tama prop front on. He was sommersaulted backwards but did manage to slow the much bigger man down. This period of Tama dominance was punctuated with a couple of nice ruck steals by Joe Nawaqavanua, a nice break by Hitoshi Chihara and some good pick and drives by Shinichiro Nakayama but the Gaijin would soon see themselves back in their own half each time through a lost ball or penalty.

The first points of the second half, though, would be to the Tokyo Gaijin when a Tama player put up a midfield bomb which started to go backwards. The ball was allowed to bounce in traffic. Toshi Miyano ended up with the ball and  passed to Takeshi Kawai flashing down the left wing. Kawai chipped over the on-coming defense and won the race to the ball and was tackled as he dived over the line. It was a show of  individual brilliance and broke the choke-hold that Tama had had on the half thus far. Miyano converted and the Gaijin had now regained the lead at 19 v 13.

The Gaijin failed to capitalise on this opportunity when they let the restart kickoff bounce and Tama reclaimed it and  were instantly on the attack and pushing into the Gaijin 22 metre area. They earned a penalty and soon after the weight of possession showed and they raced in to score. The conversion was unsuccessful but it was now neck-and-neck again with the Gaijin holding a slight lead of 19 v 18.

The Gaijin extended their lead five minutes later when Toshi Miyano converted a penalty kick from just outside the 22 metre area and a little to the left of the posts. Score: 22 v 18.

The last 15 minutes were going to be tight and both sides knew the next to score would probably win the match. The Gaijin once again stuffed up the kickoff and Tama Club were pounding at their line soon after. The battle was becoming fierce but every determined Tama charge was met by steadfast defence. The battle of attrition was showing and Gaijin lock Richard O'Shea was taken from the battlefield showing the signs of heavy body-on-body contact. The decision (Editors note: Good or bad, you be the judge) was made to put on Paulo de Berriozabal. Though the Basque native Berrriozabal tends to be a penalty magnet he also seemed to be the right guy to 'stick it' to the Tama big boys with his hard 'take -no-prisoners' approach. He joined the field with manager Joffa Harris' words ringing in his ears, "Paulo, don't give away any stupid penalties. Just play good, hard rugby!".

About three minutes after entering the game De Berriozabal was penalised for tackling an opponent while not being back ten metres from a quick penalty tap by Tama. The referee deemed the play cynical and had no hesitation in showing him a yellow card and ten minutes on the sideline cooling off in the 'bad boy's' chair. It was the second yellow card of the game incurred by the Gaijin and was to leave the team with only 14 men once again. They had already been under heavy pressure for a long period of time and found themselves getting heavily penalised which allowed the Tama Club to mount constant attacks on the Gaijin tryline. Would the one man advantage finally get them over the line?

Phillip Ferraira came into the fray for Bryan O'Brien and instantly made an impact with a charging run down the wing bumping off a few tacklers to momentarily get the Gaijin out of trouble, but the Tama Club worked their way back into the Gaijin 22 metre area with a string of about 6 or 7 penalties. One such penalty can only be descibed as wrong, wrong wrong. Shinichiro Nakayama made a good steal in defense right under the shadow of his own posts and had done everything right - release, stay on your feet etc, but the referee penalised him for some imaginary wrongdoing. (Writers note: After the game the referee told Shin that he had a knee on the ground but I swear he had only imagined it. It was the best steal of the game and was so good that the referee couldn't believe that it was possible considering the waves of attack and the ability to get in their and stop it was unfathomable for him. Without video evidence it is hard to prove and even with it the refereee (or should i refer to him as God) is never wrong!!).

Tama went close to scoring out wide to the right as the game entered the final ten minutes but a great cover tackle by Sam Deroeck with an assist from Ferreira saw the Tama winger smashed into touch just as he was about to score. The Gaijin botched their own 5 metre line-out with a mis-call and the happy Tama lock who collected the ball swung around in the tackle and stretched out for the line to score. Once again the lead had changed and despite missing the conversion Tama RFC was back in the lead at 23 v 22.

The Gaijin had seven minutes to regain the lead and take out the match. It was to be a nail-biting final 7 minutes with the Gaijin hot on attack in the Tama half for most of it. They threw themselves into rucks and ran the ball hard but the Tama Club's defense held firm. With two minutes to go the Gaijin received a penalty a little further out from where Toshi Miyano had converted one earlier in the half. Some excited spectators were calling for a shot at goal but alas, a quick penalty tap was taken and the Gaijin charged at the line for one last tilt at securing a Finals berth for the first time ever in 1st Division. The Tama defense was resolute though and a poor pass saw the Gaijin's chances disappear and Tama RFC managed to hold on and take victory by a point with a well-deserved 23 v 22 win.

The Gaijin player's heads were down as they assembled for the usual post-match referee's talk as they considered the 'what ifs' and 'could haves, should haves, would haves' but they can be proud that they never gave up and played the game with passion. There was no lack of effort and no lack of collective resolve and they showed a willingness to work for each other. One may claim that the yellow cards were the difference with the Gaijin spending 20 minutes with only 14 men on the field. Paulo de Berriozabal's moment of madness may have proved costly but in the heat of battle one is forced to make immediate decisions that one may later regret. The penalty count was heavily against the Gaijin in the second half but most onlookers were in agreement that the referee had had a good game. The Gaijin had had penalty problems at the ruck for the whole Tokyo Cup campaign this year and whether that is due to a difference of interpretation here in Japan or they do actually play 'dirtier' than local teams (even their Japanese players?) is something that needs to be debated. (Editors Note: This is a problem area in all forms of rugby and there will always be differences of interpretation, perhaps one of the weak points in rugby as a sport compared to say rugby league which has fewer grey areas. There is no point in persuing this because even if there is a hint of justification in the claim; where doees that get you? The Gaijin need to learn how to manage to stay on the right side of referees and how to get advice from them, not penalties.)

Tama RFC generated momentum and sustained it for long periods of time, enabling them to play front-foot rugby. Tama's forwards were well led by their big prop who set up many rucks with charges into the teeth of the opposition and their Number 8 was also a key forward and ruled the line-outs. They also had pacey outside backs and a terrier like halfback who constantly got in the faces of the Gaijin players. At one stage in the second half the halfback got three consecutive warnings from the referee for late niggly play and one would be excused for wondering when the yellow card would be produced.

For the Gaijin their forwards toiled manfully and were well led by props John Herger and Tsukasa Takasugi. Nik Pavesic made a few good busts and Joe Nawaqavanua had some good aggressive charges and strong tackles. Vice Captain Shinichiro Nakayama also led by example and it was good to see Jesse Takahashi have his first full game back in the Gaijin strip after a long time out.

In the backs Takeshi Kawai was the standout closely backed up by Sam Dereock. Deroeck made numerous breaks but it was Kawai who received the Man of the Match award. He scored two excellent tries with one of them showing his individual brilliance and was also prominent in defense with Tama only scoring one try through their backs.

The Gaijin would like to thank all those that came out and supported us during the Tokyo Cup 2012 campaign. They would also like to thank the people that helped out with the 'compulsory' helper jobs such as medic, ballboys, waterboys and scorer. Without you the team would not have been able to play so your help is much appreciated. Special thanks to Yamagen, Natsu, Hitomi, Sato-san, Blake, Matt, Murray & Shino (baby-sitter). Hope I haven't forgotten anyone.

SCORE: TAMA RFC 23 (4 tries, 0/4 conversions, 1/1 converssions)  TGRFC 22 (Takeshi Kawai 2, Nik Pavesic 1 tries, Toshi Miyano 2/3 conversions, 1/1 penalties)

Man of the Match: Takeshi Kawai

Goat(s) of the Match: Liam Ramshaw, Paulo de Berriozabal (for the yellow cards)

TEAM:

1. John Herger (USA)

2. Liam Ramshaw (England)

3. Tsukasa Takasugi (Japan)

4. Richard O'Shea (wales)

5. Jesse Cutler-Takahashi (USA)

6. Joe Nawaqavanua (Fiji)

7. Shinichiro Nakayama (vc) (Japan)

8. Nik Pavesic (Croatia)

9. Alaister Nimmo (c) (England)

10. Toshi Miyano (Japan)

11.Bryan O'Brien (USA)

12. Mosese Rarasea (Fiji)

13. Takeshi Kawai (Japan)

14.Hitshi Chihara (Japan)

15. Sam Deroeck (England)

16. Gareth Palmer (Wales)

17. Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)

18.Takashi Tanikawa (Japan)

19. Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)

20. Apisai Bti (Fiji)

21. Ikuo Fukuda (Japan)

22. Phillip Ferraira (South Africa)