Dateline: Sunday, 28th October, 2012
The Tokyo Gaijin RFC played their fourth round match of the 2012 Shuto League on an artificial turf pitch in Hodogaya, down Yokohama way. Their opposition was Dandelions RFC. Yes, that's right. Yet another strange name in that long list of strange names that is Japanese rugby. After their third round defeat to Olivers the TGRFC knew that they needed to win and win handsomely, if they wanted to have any chance of keeping their Shuto League title. In fact, a shutout and at least 4 tries were in order to gain two bonus points to make up the lost points from two weeks ago.
The Gaijin started well and mauled two early line-outs over ten metres and got within a couple of metres of the Dandelions tryline. Both times, however, the maul was disrupted (some may say illegally collapsed) and the points went begging.
The game was soon turned on its head however. After frustrating the Gaijin with these seemingly miraculous recoveries from the powerful Gaijin rolling maul, Dandelions showed what they could do with the ball and immediately troubled the Gaijin outside backs with good running lines and superior pace. Then the Gaijin players quickly got on the wrong side of the referee and the penalties started coming in waves, mostly for ruck infringements - not releasing the ball, not staying on your feet, playing the ball on the ground with the hands, and not coming through the gate.
The constant penalties were starting to frustrate the Gaijin and the game hadn't even gone ten minutes. After a set of 6 consecutive penalties the Dandelions crashed over the try line to surprise the Gaijin with the first try of the match and blow the TGRFC's hopes of gaining a bonus point for keeping their opposition scoreless. In fact, at this rate the Gaijin looked like they may even struggle to win the game. The conversion was successful and the Dandelions RFC was out to an early 7 v 0 lead.
The Gaijin came back quickly with a try of their own when towering lock Richard O'Shea found open space and raced towards the try-line in a 20 metre run. He was tackled from behind metres short but managed to pop the ball up to the trailing Tsukasa Takasugi who just needed to catch and dive over to secure the points. Takasugi is a master of trailing other forwards close to the line and waiting for the pop pass and has scored a try in almost every game he has played this year in this style and he made no mistakes with this one. Toshi Miyano failed to convert but the Gaijin were back in the hunt at 7 v 5 down.
The next try was also to the Gaijin and can be credited to the tight five's strong scrummaging. The Gaijin set a scrum about 10 metres out from the Dandelions try-line and pushed it forward to the try-line. As the Dandelions scrum began to disintegrate Takashi Tanikawa at number 8 almost made a hash of it as he went for the ball and was simultaneously mobbed by the opposition halfback. He was lying over the line with the ball between his legs struggling to get a touch on it. Joffa Harris dived on the ball and the the referee, Johnny-on-the-spot, awarded the try. This time Toshi Miyano converted and the Gaijin had hit the front 12 v 7.
Joffa undid his good work when he failed to catch the kickoff cleanly as the ball sailed over his head. He got a hand on it but just managed to knock it backwards. The ball then spun forward and ended up in the hands of an onrushing Dandelions player. The Gaijin managed to recover from this mistake but the penalties kept coming against them which was of major concern for Captain Alaister Nimmo.
At the 28th minute mark, Richard O'Shea, was seen keeled over releasing the contents of his stomach (something to do with some beer consumption from the night before?). He was replaced by fellow welshman Gareth Palmer.
The score at halftime remained 12 v 7 to the Gaijin. The match was still in the balance but one had the feeling if the Gaijin just tightened up their play and supported the ball runner better they would start to get on top, afterall, their scrum was destroying the Dandelions scrum. They needed to hunt in twos as the referee was favoring the defending team, asking for a super-quick release, and the Dandelions players seemed to be well-trained at diving in for the ball when the attacking player was tackled. Also, the referee didn't seem to be a big fan of the 'tackler must release' rule, but captain Alaister Nimmo had a few words with him at halftime to set him straight.
With the Gaijin working better to support the ball-carrier and the referee now expecting the tackler to release, the Gaijin started to get the better of more of the rucks and positive results followed. After some excellent charges one off the ruck by Lachlan Ainsley and Liam Ramshaw the Gaijin began to find holes as the defense needed to backpedal and Gareth Palmer found a big hole up the middle, broke a few tackles, and charged over under the posts. With Miyano's successful conversion the Gaijin jumped out to a 19 v 7 lead.
Not long after, a Joffa Harris break came to nothing when his pass to Philip Ferraira was 'grassed'. (Note: Ferraira was not named Goat of the Game but willingly sculled due to a few dropped balls in the match. Unlike a South African to be so honest!!)
Despite this little set-back the Gaijin kept their territorial advantage and a scrum about 10 metres out led to their next try. Takashi Tanikawa took the ball from the base of the scrum and charged at the line. He was stopped by the defense but managed to swivel in the tackle. The ball was ripped off him by Joffa Harris who pushed off a defender and dived over the tryline. Miyano converted and the TGRFC now had a handy lead of 26 v 7.
Bryan O'Brien increased this lead with a well-taken try and with another conversion to Miyano the Gaijin seemed to have an unbeatable lead at 33 v 7.
The 'icing on the cake' was added by Liam Ramshaw minutes later. Vice-captain Shinichiro Nakayama sparked the try when he made a nice break and chipped the ball ahead. He narrowly won the race to the ball and toed it further ahead. On, or very close to the tryline, a defending player dived at the ball (and Shin may have played at it with his feet again??) and it squirted sideways out to the far right corner. Liam Ramshaw was rewarded for his excellent support play all day, when he steadfastly followed the play and won the race to the ball, diving on it just before it went dead in goal in the corner. The wide conversion was too much for Miyano and the score remained at 38 v 7.
The Gaijin almost went in again from the kickoff but some rash play saw the movement break down. Replacement Gorka Gerediago took the kickoff and charged back into the defense. A quick recycle and a few passes later we saw Alfie Barros streaking down the wing. Barros tried a 'behind the back' flick pass to a support runner on the inside but the ball went two metres forward and the try went begging.
The Dandelions made one last furious foray into the Gaijin 22 metre area with the aid of some dubious penalties but good counter-rucking from the Gaijin helped keep the try-line uncrossed in the second half.
The result was a good result after quite a poor start and a heavy penalty count against them. The Gaijin had failed to keep their opposition scoreless because of this terrible start but had improved as the game went on. They did manage to get one of the bonus points they were after; for scoring more than 4 tries. Not bad when one considers that there were 8 starters from the last game missing from the squad (Mosese, Dave Chan, Roy, Nik, Sam, Angus, Viking, Tatsuma - actually a reserve in the last game but often a starter).
The tight 5 were unstoppable in the scrum and the front row of Lachlan Ainsley, Liam Ramshaw and Tsukasa Takasugi got through a power of work crashing the ball up. Shinichiro Nakayama was his usual self - being a nuisance to the opposition at ruck time and winning turnover ball. Lachlan Ainsley was awarded the Man of the Match in a game dominated by the Gaijin forwards.
The backs had a rather unhappy match, especially the centre pairing of Hitsohi Chihara and Phillip Ferraira. Admittedly they rarely play together and the Gaijin were missing some of their usual combinations but some simple 'catch and pass' mistakes were inexcusable. Hitoshi Chihara was given the lowly Goat of the Game award for a particularly poor performance from someone who usually delivers much better. He threw a couple of cut-out passes to no-one (by his own admission it was 4 times). Halves Alaister Nimmo and Toshi Miyano marshalled their side well and tried their best to bring the backs into the game with Miyano being awarded Man of the Match by the opposition. Bryan O'Brien played well and was the only back to score. He also made a few desperate try-saving tackles.
Onwards and upwards!
SCORE: TGRFC 38 (Joffa Harris 2, Tsukasa Takasugi 1, Gareth Palmer 1, Bryan O'Brien 1, Liam Ramshaw 1 tries; Toshi Miyano 4/6 conversions) DANDELIONS 7 (1 try, 1/1 conversions)
Man of the Match: Lachlan Ainsley
Goat of the Match: Hitoshi Chihara
1. Lachlan Ainsley (Australia)
2. Liam Ramshaw (England)
3. Tsukasa Takasugi (Japan)
4. Richard O'Shea (Wales)
5. Jesse Takahashi (USA)
6. Joffa Harris (Australia)
7. Shinichiro Nakayama (vc) (Japan)
8. Takashi Tanikawa (Japan)
9. Alaister Nimmo (c) (England)
10. Toshi Miyano (Japan)
11. Bryan O'Brien (USA)
12. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
13. Phillip Ferriara (South Africa)
14. Ikuo Fukuda (Japan)
15. Jo Iwasaki (Japan)
Reserves used: Gorka Gerediaga (Basque), Gareth Palmer (Wales), Ryogo Takemura (Japan), Alfie Barros (Fiji), Yoshihiro Sato (Japan)