Dateline: 15th July, 2012

The final 'friendly' of the spring season before the summer break over August was played at the lovely Tatsumi National Training ground in Tatsumi. The Gaijin were up against Otowa Club, apparently the third ranked team in the Saitama League. It was the first time the two teams had ever clashed but the main aim was to give everybody a run before the summer break. With that in mind the game was set to be played in three 30 minute halves (or should that be thirds?) to give both teams chances to practise their combinations and to avoid dehydration in the heat and humidity.

The Gaijin started with what was arguably their strongest team and began very well after receiving the kickoff, with Wataru Murata making a nice break early and Dan Worden making further yards after good support play.The trend continued with Shinichiro Nakayama making a nice run and the ball was quickly recycled and prop Lachie Ainsley crashed over the tryline next to the posts  after breaking a few tackles. It was his second try in two matches for the TGRFC. Toshi Miyano converted to put the Gaijin out to a 7 v 0 lead after 5 minutes.

The Otowa Club claimed their own kickoff but the Gaijin soon got it back and a big run from Mosese Rarasea was extended after he threw a long pass to Ikuo Fukuda backing up, who made further metres upfield. The movement took the Gaijin from their own 22 metre line to their opposition's 22 metre line. From there some quick ruckwork forced the Otowa team to illegally slow down the play. The Gaijin kicked for the corner and Gareth Palmer took the ball and the Gaijin set up a solid rolling maul which eventually saw Jesse Takahashi roll off the back and plant the ball over the tryline. Miyano converted again and the Gaijin were out to a 14 v 0 lead and things were looking easy.

Trouble started though when Palmer let the kickoff bounce claiming that he thought he heard someone else call it. Nobody did and the ball went into touch. Otowa should have scored off the lineout with a sweeping move across field as they had an overlap. But the last pass didn't find its man and went into touch after pressure from Gaijin fullback Masamichi Hagaki who sized the situation up well.

Otowa made two good steals in tackles in the next few phases of play which kept them on the front foot. They put through a kick and chased hard putting Masamichi Hagaki under pressure. He decided to try some razzle-dazzle and take on the defenders coming at him when kicking it safely into touch may have been the safer option. He beat two defenders but then was engulfed and threw a loose pass to the lone support player finally getting back to help him. Otowa picked up the loose ball and some good hands saw them race in for a try next to the posts. With the conversion the score was now 14 v 7.

The Gaijin showed promise soon after with a good break and plenty of numbers to the left. Dan Worden found himself in space then passed to Gorka Gerediaga . The last pass to Ikuo Fukuda was low though and he dropped it and a  try went out the window.

Soon after though Shinichiro Nakayama broke through and scored out wide. Miyano failed with his conversion but the Gaijin were still in front 19 v 7.

Then we saw the Gaijin 'stuff up' the third kickoff to them in a row with Jesse Takahashi putting a foot in touch as he caught the ball.

They recovered though and Masamichi Hagaki, making up for his earlier error, made a nice break with a few good side steps. He was chased by three defenders but had the presence of mind to throw a long pass to Ikuo Fukuda who raced away to score under the posts.  Miyano converted to make the score 26 v 7.

The Gaijin scored again just before the break when Masamichi Hagaki zigzagged through his opponents and scored. Miyano again converted and the Gaijin went into the first break with a big 33 v 7 lead.

At the end of the first third the Gaijin seemed relaxed and reasonably confident that they could continue in the same vein. Otowa had other ideas and seemed to be foxing by playing their stronger squad in the second third after the Gaijin had brought on some replacements. They scored three quick  tries with some nice accurate floating passes. Toshi Miyano assisted them in the second one when he threw an intercept pass on the halfway line and they  raced away to score. The third came after a big run from Joe Nawaqavanua came to nothing when the ball was stolen off him and an Otowa player ran 40 metres to score. This got them back in the game and they were just a try behind at 33 v 26.

John Herger scored the next try after showing pace unbecoming of a prop. Fellow prop Lachie Ainsley drew the defense and Herger ran hard and straight at the hole in the defensive line. He broke through and seemed to get faster on his way  to the tryline for a scintillating 40 metre effort. He seemed to be going further away from the two back chasing him. Miyano converted to keep the Gaijin in front at 40 v 26.

Big Joe Nawaqavanua made a nice big break next but undid his good work with a 'nothing' chip kick that went nowhere and was thankfully accepted by the Otowa fullback. Not to be outdone, fellow Fijian Mosese Rarasea put in a nice chip on his own 22 metre line and regathered the ball but then lost it in a good cover tackle on the halfway line. Masamichi Hagaki also blew a try when he didn't pass to his unmarked winger.

The Gaijin did finally score after this series of errors when fill-in captain Shinichiro Nakayama took a quick tap. Masamichi Hagaki and Mosese  Rarasea were involved in a good yard-eating run and Jo Iwasaki  ended up on the end of the move and raced over the tryline to score. Miyano failed with the conversion which now made the score 45 v 26.

With big holes now starting to appear in the Gaijin defense the Otowa club spread the ball wide and scored near the corner. They failed to convert keeping the Gaijin in front 45 v 31.

Otowa then made it a close finale to the game when they scored a try after a turnover from a maul and a missed tackle from Mosese Rarasea. They failed to convert leaving the score a close 45 v 38.

Otowa were soon back in the hunt with a nice try in the corner as they completely dominated territory over the last 15 minutes of the third half of 30 minutes. They missed the conversion which made it a tense final few minutes. Score: 45 v 43 to the Gaijin.

Otowa were making all the plays and smashing into the rucks with venom. The Gaijin looked rudderless with Yamagen running the show at standoff and made too  many mistakes towards the end of the game. Otowa scored the final try after lazy defense by the Gaijin with Natsu Kunitomo making a half-hearted effort to dive at the feet of the scorer. He was only a metre short though. So after leading for most of the 90 minutes of the match the Gaijin were pipped at the end 48 v 45.

The result was not important as the main aim was to give everyone a run but it was still disappointing to lose, especially after starting so well and leading most of the game. The Gaijin used all 30 players present (a Japanes lock brought along by one of our players is missing from the list below because I don't know his name).

The Gaijin played very well in patches but with so many new players and irregular attendees present it was difficult for the team to keep their rhythm. The Gaijin played too individually whereas the Otowa team played as a well-drilled unit.  The Otowa Backs, while arguably not as good as the Gaijin backs player for player, were far superior with their set moves and had the Gaijin backs bamboozled at times with their plays. They smoothly moved the ball from side to side with crisp passing and excellent speed.

For the Gaijin props John Herger and Lachlan Ainley were strong. Herger was awarded the Man of the Match for his solid all-round scrumming and for that wonderful try. Loose forwards Shinichiro Nakayama, Gorka Gerediaga & Dan Worden worked well over the first 30 minutes before replacements were made regularly.

In the backs, Mosese Rarasea & Touch Roy made some strong runs. Andrew Fennel, in just his second game of rugby, and Masamichi Hagaki made many try-saving tackles. Fennel almost broke through for his first try but was tackled short of the line while Hagaki made many busts with his twinkle-toed runs.

Score: Otowa RFC 48 (8 tries, 4/ 8 goals) TGRFC 45 (Lachlan Ainley 1, Jesse Takahashi 1, Shinichiro Nakayama 1, Ikuo Fukuda 1, Masamichi Hagaki 1, John Herger 1, Jo Iwasaki 1 tries; T. Miyano 5/7 converssions)

Man of the Match: John Herger

Goat of the Match: Natsu Kunitomo (for that weak effort to tackle the guy who scored the last try)

TEAM:

1. Lachie Ainsley (Australia)

2. Gaz Dalrymple (Scotland)

3. John Herger (USA)

4. Jesse Takahashi (USA)

5. Gareth Palmer (Wales)

6. Dan worden (NZ)

7. Shinichiro Nakayama (c) (Japan)

8. Gorka Gerediaga (Basque)

9. Wataru Murata (Japan)

10. Toshi Miyano (Japan)

11. Ikuo Fukuda (Japan)

12. Mosese Rarasea (Fiji)

13. Touch Roy (Australia)

14.Andrew Fennel (USA)

15. Masamichi Hagaki (Japan)

Reserves used: Koji Nishihara (Japan); Takeshi Koba (Japan), Chris Lucas (Australia), Natsu Kunitomo (Japan), John Simpson (USA), Dave Kelver (USA), Joffa Harris (Australia), Joe Nawqavanua (Fiji), Ebba Kamuhanda (Uganda), Hiroyuki Saito (Japan), Max Manson (NZ), Jo Iwasaki (Japan), Junpei Shirakawa (Japan), Yamagen (Japan)