Dateline: Sunday, 14th October, 2012

The Tokyo Gaijin RFC saw their hopes of a third straight Shuto League title in a row all but disappear when they went down to Olivers RFC 24 v 20 in a torrid and spiteful clash. With the scores locked at 14 v 14 at halftime the match disintegrated into a series of fights and dirty play as the referee lost all control. The Gaijin were on the end of a heavy penalty count against them and received two yellow cards to Takayuki Kitajima and Mosese Rarasea as the Olivers players seemed to be able to use dirty tactics with impunity. The referee had a poor game with many inconsistent rulings and explained away his shortcomings with 'I didn't see it' which made it very hard for the Gaijin to compete equally with their counterparts.

The Gaijin brought together a strong squad for the match at the lovely Inagi Sports Stadium with newcomer Angus Brown slotting straight into the centres. The Gaijin knew that Olivers RFC, like the TGRFC, had beaten all their opponents thus far in the League and would provide stiff competition. The matchup last year was the toughest game of the League for the Gaijin and they only narrowly prevailed.

Olivers RFC began the game with a sneaky short kick to the backs side of the field and caught the Gaijin off guard and immediately reclaimed the ball. Not a great start for the Gaijin but they managed to work their way up into the Olivers side of the field with a strong run down the wing by David Chan. After a long period of offensive pressure the Gaijin found themselves with an early lead when Nik Pavesic crashed over the tryline after a series of forward drives. Angus Brown converted the try to make the score 7 v 0 to the Gaijin.

The Olivers RFC were back in the game about 5 minutes later when their fullback grubbered through a kick to break the oncoming rush defense and regain the ball and beat Gaijin fullback Sam Deroeck over the line to score next to the posts. The try was duly converted to leave the scores even at 7 v 7.

The Gaijin hit back immediately after Shinichiro Nakayama charged down a clearing kick by the Oliver's halfback and regathered. The ball was passed along the backline swiftly and a nice cut-out pass from Angus Brown found David Chan charging onto it and showing good pace to dive over in the corner as he was tackled by the fullback. Angus Brown stepped up to nail the conversion from the sideline showing that he will be a excellent acquisition with kicking like that, as previous kickers used by the Gaijin this season have not had a very good success rate. Score: 14 v 7 to the Gaijin.

The next try by Olivers had a bit of controversy about it and smacked of unsportsmen like conduct with the referee among the guilty party. As the Gaijin lined up in defense about 15 metres out from their line, the linesmen on the left side, Paulo de Berriozabal (a TGRFC member) came running onto the field with his flag up, screaming like a banshee. The Gaijin turned to see what the problem was and basically stopped playing the game. An Olivers player took the opportunity to race through the defensive line untouched to score under the posts and the Gaijin stood in disbelief as the referee awarded the try. Despite protestations by the Gaijin players the referee steadfastly refused to buy into it and the try stood.

While everyone has it drummed into them from a young age that you should play to the whistle the linesman had clearly obstructed some defenders as he raced across in front of them to stop the game. Apparently the Olivers winger on that side looked to be severely concussed out and De Berriozabal thought it serious enough to bring the game to an immediate halt. The concern for their player was not as important for Olivers as scoring, and the Gaijin were punished for their sportsmanship. (In my experience the game is usually stopped if someone from outside the field of play enters the field and interferes with play.)

The try was converted and it was now even again at 14 v 14.

This crazy passage of play seemed to affect the Gaijin and tensions began to rise. The constant niggle, from both sides, had the referee in a spot of bother as he began to lose the respect of the players and control of the game. Olivers had a chance to break the deadlock but their penalty shot at goal was short and to the right.

With 8 minutes to go in the half Gaijin prop Takayuki Kitajima was shown a yellow card by the referee leaving the Gaijin to fight out the rest of the half with only 14 men. The referee's ruling on this is still uncertain as there was a series of 'push and shoves' at the time. It was either for talking back to the ref or taking out the halfback at the back of the ruck.

The score remained unchanged for the rest of the half and both teams went to 'oranges' fired up and ready to give their all in the second half. The Gaijin had left some points on the field with both Touch Roy and then Hitoshi Chihara guilty of white line fever when the better option would have been to pass to unmarked support players. Olivers could thank their lucky stars for the 'gift' try they had received. They had kept themselves in the game with clever kicks in behind the Gaijin defense and played the corners very well. Captain Alaister Nimmo implored the TGRFC players to keep their eye on the target and forget about all the 'off the ball' stuff and to try to take the referee out of the equation by playing better, 'thinking' rugby.

The Gaijin secured the first points of the second half when Angus Brown stepped up to nail a penalty from 20 metres out and almost directly in front. This gave them a narrow lead of 17 v 14.

At this stage captain Alaister Nimmo came from the field with a leg niggle to be replaced by Tatsuma Mutou and soon after Mosese Rarasea was on for Angus Brown, as Brown was hit in the ribs in a heavy tackle as he made a nice break down the left flank only to be claimed by the cover defense. With his kicking proving to be the key to this game the Gaijin hierarchy were keen to get him back on and Brown answered the call, despite a possible broken rib, and Touch Roy was replaced.

The Olivers RFC was soon back to even with a converted penalty attempt of their own and it was even-stevens again at 17 v 17.

Another successful Brown penalty conversion from almost the same place as his previous attempt enabled the Gaijin to take the lead again 20 v 17.

This set up a tense last 10 minutes. Tempers continued to flare with more animosity and frequency and another 'push and shove' match saw Gaijin replacement centre Mosese Rarasea (possibly still hung-over from Fiji Independence Day celebrations from the night before) heavily involved. He claims that the referee took it on advice from the linesman (Oliver's linesman!) that he had punched the Oliver's halfback, when he had actually just shoved him backwards. Punch or push, it's all the same and the referee had no hesitation in handing out the second yellow card of the game to leave the Gaijin to finish with 14 men.

Another fight broke out soon after and saw Gaijin halfback Tatsuma Mutou smashed behind his own pack after the whistle. The Gaijin bench was cleared but a strong scolding from capatin Nimmo and Match Adjudicator Yamagen saw the reserves return to the sideline. After a long consultation with the linesman (yes, that Oliver's linesman again!), the Gaijin were penalised and the referee claimed that he did not see the blatant & dangerous foul play on the Gaijin halfback. The Gaijin were incensed and felt a Red Card was the more appropriate action but once again the Olivers side had managed to get under their skin. This would benefit them in the final few minutes as they worked their way into the Gaijin 22 metre area with the help of a few more penalties and eventually barged their way over the tryline through strong forward play. The try was converted and the referee immediately blew the whistle and Olivers RFC had won a tough match 24 v 20.

While most phases of the game were fairly equal, except for the scrum which the Gaijin dominated, Olivers had played a 'smarter' game and used the referee to their advantage brilliantly. They had successfully baited the Gaijin into silly errors of judgement and a few 'brain explosions'. Their central defense was superb and their fullback had a starring role in attack and was also instrumental in 'baiting' some of the Gaijin forwards. They were consistent throughout.

The Gaijin had played very well in parts but the sum of those parts didn't add up to enough and in the end it was the consistency that let them down. Wasted opportunities and having to play with 14 men for 20 minutes did not help their cause. The Gaijin tight five had toiled hard all day and constantly had the Olivers scrum going backwards. Props John Herger and Takayuki Kitajima were standouts, except for Taka's yellow card, and Herger ended up with a joint Man of the Match Award.

In the backs, Sam Dereock worked hard and made some good runs but he was well shackled, although he occassionally threatened to break free with a big fend or a step. David Chan also made some powerful metre-eating runs down the right flank before a back complaint saw him replaced.  Angus Brown, on his Gaijin debut, was terrific all over the park and his kicking game was superb, both in general play and kicking for touch, and also his goal shooting. He was given joint Man of the Match for his efforts. We only hope that that rib was not broken.

The refereeing performance can only be described as inept. When even the Japanese players in the Gaijin side complain of 'double standards' then one has to start to take notice. The double standards and inconsistencies were numerous and made it hard for the Gaijin side to compete on an equal footing. The complete disregard of linesman Paulo de Berriozabal in Oliver's second try, when he seemed only concerned for the Olivers player's health, was a poor call, and then to give the opposite linesman so much time in the second half on important foul play calls was inexcusable and blatantly biased. If the linesmen are their just to assist the referee on line calls then it should be that way for all involved.

The Gaijin will be left to ponder the 'what ifs?'. Despite the very poor refereeing the game was still certainly there for the taking. Less indiviualism and more team work would help. Calmness under pressure, including pressure created by poor refereeing decisions, would also help. Handling the niggle better would help as well. Olivers did all these things better and came away with the points on the day. The Gaijin will now have to win all the rest of their games with bonus points to have any chance of holding onto their Shuto League title as it is hard to see Olivers being beaten by any other teams in the league.

SCORE : Olivers RFC 24 (3 tries, 3/3 conversions, 1/2 penalties) TGRFC 20 (Nik Pavesic 1, David Chan 1 tries, Angus Brown 2/2 conversions, 2/2 penalties)

Man of the Match: Angus Brown/John Herger

Goat of the Game: Mosese Rarasea/Takayuki Kitajima/Touch Roy

TEAM:

1. John Herger (USA)

2. Liam Ramshaw (England)

3. Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)

4. Jesse Cutler-Takahashi (USA)

5. Nik Pavesic (Croatia)

6. Joffa Harris (Australia)

7. Shinichiro Nakayama (vc) (Japan)

8. Takashi Tanikawa (Japan)

9. Alaister Nimmo (c) (England)

10. Toshi Miyano (Japan)

11. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)

12. Angus Brown (Scotland)

13. Touch Roy (Australia)

14. David Chan (Australia)

15. Sam Deroeck (England)

Reserves used: Gorka Gerediaga (Basque), Gareth Palmer (Wales), Tatsuma Mutou (Japan), Mosese Rarasea (Fiji), Jo Iwasaki (Japan), Bryan O'Brien (USA)