Dateline: 15th Septemeber, 2012
The 2nd round of the Shuto League saw Tokyo Gaijin RFC come up against All Jin Jan at the beautiful Tatsumi Field. All Jin Jan have traditionally been the toughest rivals for the title but have been runners up to the Gaijin over the past three years. The game was sure to be a tough battle and the Gaijin would have to overcome the absence of two of their best players from the week before in Sam Deroeck and Nik Pavesic. They did however have big Kiwi standoff Blake Walker back for his first game of 15's rugby for 18 months after complications from knee surgery.
The Gaijin started in promising style forcing a ruck penalty against All Jin Jan in the first 30 seconds of the game. The first real break of the game came after Walker put big Fijian Joe Nawaqavanua into a gap with a neat little inside pass after drawing the defense to him. Nawaqavanua put on a big fend to get rid of the first tackler and made 15 yards upfield to get well into the All Jin Jan 22 metre area but the Gaijin were penalised for going over the top.
In the first 10 minutes the Gaijin had all the territory and the All Jin Jan defense finally broke when Shin Nakayama took a quick tap from a penalty about 15 metres out from the All Jin Jan line. He charged at the defense and a quick recycle saw the ball in John Herger's hands and he charged over for the first try of the game. Walker failed with the conversion but the first points were on the board and the Gaijin led 5 v 0.
Walker injured his ankle as he was kicking the ball, kicking the ground before he made contact with the ball, and managed to play on for almost 10 minutes but eventually succumbed and had to come from the field which forced Hitoshi Chihara into standoff and saw the entry of new recruit Aisea 'Ice' Kaloumaira to the game.
Nawaqavanua was involved in the next promising play when he drew the defense and gave a nice hand off in the tackle to fellow Fijian Mosese Rarasea. Rarasea looked like he was going to win the race to the try line in what would be a 50 metre effort but in his efforts to get around the cover defense he put a foot in touch and was called back by the referee. The Gaijin received a penalty anyway for the All Jin Jan backline being offside. From the kick to touch there was a nice drive by the forwards from the line-out. Following that there was a big charge by Nawaqavanua at the defensive line. He knocked over a tackler and then gave a sweetly timed handoff to captain Alaister Nimmo who ran an excellent line to go through the defense untouched and score midway between posts and corner flag. Rarasea missed the conversion which left the Gaijin in front 10 v 0.
From the 17th minute All Jin Jan finally got into the Gaijin 22 metre area and had 3 or 4 close goes at the tryline and a few penalties to help but the Gaijin defense was equal to the task and some good counter-rucking saw turn-over ball. Alistair Nimmo fed Junichiro Shirakawa who broke through the defensive line just outside his 22 metre area and raced upfield. He was tackled from behind by the right side winger but managed to break the tackle and stay on his feet and dive under the posts to score a great individual try. Rarasea converted and the Gaijin were now out to a handy 17 v 0 lead.
The play for the first twenty minutes had mostly been in the All Jin Jan half but the next twenty minutes was to be All Jin Jan's turn to camp inside the Gaijin half. A string of penalties had them trying to crash over close to the line. The Gaijin managed to repel the attacks and this was exemplified by Rarasea who put in a big hit on his opposite centre and forced the ball free. His new Fijian counterpart in the centres, Ice Ice Baby, was also ptting in some big hits. The Gaijin continued to suck up the pressure but weight of possession and territory finally took its toll and they finally cracked out wide with All Jin Jan scoring their first try of the match. They failed to convert and the score was now 17 v 5.
Hitoshi Chihara came off in this period for a stint in the blood-bin with blood streaming from a cut in the top of his head. He was back out there before halftime but the score did not change for the rest of the half.
The game thus far had been a game of two quarters with complete domination by the TGRFC in the first quarter and then domination, at least territorially, by All Jin Jan for the second quarter. It was only the good defense of the Tokyo Gaijin RFC that had held them to one try for the half. The team to score first in the second half would have a big say in the final result. If the Gaijin were to score first in would take a big comeback to overhaul the lead. If All Jin Jan were to score first and continue to play as they had finished the half it would be 'game on'.
The Gaijin started the better when good hands along the backline from the restart saw Rarasea give a nice handoff in a tackle to Tatsuma Mutou. The little winger raced down the wing but was brought down in a good tackle by the All Jin Jan fullback. A quick recycle saw Joe Nawaqavanua with the ball and he spun it to Rarasea looming up in support on his left, but Rarasea was tackled into touch just before the corner post...the second time he had stepped over the same side line on his way to the tryline.
The Gaijin kept the pressure on but ended up knocking the ball on 5 metres out from the tryline. The ensuing scrum screwed horribly and the ball spewed out the side and all Joe Nawaqavanua had to do was dive on it and he had a try to his name. Rarasea converted and the Gaijin were now out to what seemed an unbeatable lead at 24 v 5.
The Gaijin were looking ominous soon after when Hitoshi Chihara ran back into the forwards. With the ball recycled too quickly for All jin Jan forwards Shin Nakayama made a nice break just off the side of the ruck. He chipped ahead but was taken out, fairly according to the referee, and the ball was kicked over the deadball line with Nawaqavanua in hot pursuit, which resulted in a 5 metre scrum. The Gaijin set up a number of rucks and were hammering away at the All Jin Jan line. Standoff Chihara popped an inside ball to prop Lachlan Ainsley which would have seen him score if it had been at the chest but the ball was too high and knocked on by Ainsley over the line.
The constant pressure was telling though and the Gaijin did eventually get the next points. Wing Tatsuma Mutou took a high bomb and made a good break upfield with a jinking run. He drew the All Jin Jan fullback and gave a well timed pass to Junpei Shirakawa who raced away and curved around a bit closer to the posts to score. Rarasea missed witht he converssion though and the score remained at 29 v 5.
As the half wore on the Gaijin made a personnel changes and confusion reigned. Big Joe Nawaqavanuasttled things down with a strong run upfield swatting off defenders and passed to Jo Iwasaki who juggled the ball but managed to regather and score. Rarasea again missed with the conversion to make the lead an unbeatable 34 v 5.
Joffa Harris, who had just joined the game, dropped the high kickoff and the Gaijin found themselves camped in their own quarter for the rest of the game. The Gaijin game plan seemed to go out the window in the last 10 minutes and All Jin Jan did eventually score a try, their first of the second half, when lax defense allowed on of their big forwards to charge over the line untouched. But it was all too little and too late. they converted to make the final score 34 v 12.
The Gaijin had played well for most of the game but the lapses late in the two halves would have worried captain Alaister Nimmo and the management. The Gaijin scrum was superior and their defense was solid for the most part. Joe Nawaqavanua was a standout and received Man of the Match honours. He was closely followed by fellow Fijian Mosese Rarasea who had a strong game in attack and defense. New Fijian recruit Aisea Kaloumaira also stronged strong defense when he came on in the second half. The Gaijin front row was strong and others to stand out were fullback Junpei Shirakawa who gained good yards with express speed and curve and Tatsuma Mutou who tackles well above weight and is deceptively fast.
It was not good to see Blake Walker come off with a sprained ankle after all this time out (18 months) as he had had some good touches and was always aware of the options he had inside and outside him. Hopefully he'll be back out on the paddock in a month or so. Another new recruit in American flanker Nathan Silver also got some game time at the end but his 5 minutes on the field was hardly ample for him to show what he has got.
SCORE: TGRFC 34 (Junpei Shirakawa 2, John Herger 1, Alaister Nimmo 1, Joe Nawaqavanua 1, Jo Iwasaki 1 tries; M. B. Walker 0/1, M. Rarasea 2/5 conversions) ALL JIN JAN 12 (2 tries; 1/2 conversions)
Man of the Match: Joe Nawaqavanua
1. Lachlan Ainsley (Australia)
2. Liam Ramsahw (England)
3. John Herger (USA)
4. Richard O'Shea (Wales)
5. Jesse Takahashi (USA)
6. Joe Nawqavanua (Fiji)
7. Shinichiro Nakayama (vc) (Japan)
8. Takashi Tanikawa (Japan)
9. Alaister Nimmo (c) (England)
10. Blake Walker (NZ)
11. Bryan O'Brien (USA)
12. Mosese Rarasea (Fiji)
13. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
14. Tatsuma Mutou (Japan)
15. Junpei Shirakawa (Japan)
Reserves used: Gorka Gerediaga (Basque), John Simpson (USA), Gareth Palmer (Wales), Joffa Harris (Australia), Nathan Silver (USA), Ryogo Takemura (Japan); Aisea 'Ice' Kaloumaira (Fiji), Jo Iwasaki (Japan), Ikuo Fukuda (Japan), Yamagen (Japan)