Tokyo Gaijin 26 Higurashi Ruggers 8
Sidelined player-coach Joffa Harris reminded the team before kick-off that the Gaijin had never (never!) lost in the first round of the Tokyo Cup. However, seldom has the club faced such a tricky opening fixture, against old rivals Higurashi with past results disturbingly even.
Fortunately, it was the Gaijin who took immediate control at the sunken and very hard arena of the Mitaka Nogawa field, applying pressure through the controlled scavenging of Murray Clarke and Dave Kelver?s convincing impersonation of a human torpedo. The experienced front row also had the measure of their square opponents, Takayuki Kitajima and Mark Pearson grinding them down without mercy.
It was, however, beefy Argentinean Mauro Sauco who broke the deadlock, diving and scrabbling over the gravel from close range for an opening score with may not have survived the vigilance of a TV replay. The Ruggers, hurt by this perceived injustice, hit their stride, driving round the fringes. Madness. The Gaijin tackled like demons, Takeshi Takeda even coming off his wing to look for that match-changing hit. Stopped short in every area of the park, the Ruggers eventually gave up and settled for three points, a rare event in Japanese rugby and testament to the rock-solid Gaijin defence.
Back up the other end after this moral victory, captain Blake Walker marked his first outing as captain with a slick show-and-go to score under the posts. With only minutes to go before half-time, Rob Reinebach then made the most of his size and perseverance to brush off several tacklers on the way to the line. It was all looking good at 19-3, but waiting for the half-time whistle the Gaijin conceded an unforgivably soft score in the corner.
No need to panic. The Gaijin closed out the game in a storming second half. Niall Conlon, adding to his tireless defensive work, raged upfield and added the brawn to the brain of Ian The Shadow Roy?s incisive counter-attacking. Heats Devlin was also at the top of his game, as much a pest to Higurashi on the wing as he was when moved to flanker in the second half.
Gradually, the hard playing-surface took its toll. Blake Walker went off with his standard concussion, while Jyoh Iwasaki was stretchered directly from the pitch to an ambulance. He now has six stitches in his head but also the good sense to be married to the team?s medical officer.
Most satisfactorily, the set piece was an area of strength all day, especially a fully functioning line-out that sneaked endless opposition throw-ins. When Shaunne Hughes finished off the scoring by pouncing on a loose ball and shimmying to the line, the Gaijin could eventually relax after a job well done.
As ever, it would be impossible to have such a grand day out under the cherry blossom without the selflessness of all the helpers needed for the Tokyo Cup. Many thanks again to the Ayakos, Aaron, Terumi, Jesse, Jerry, Melissa, Shino, Ryoichi, Paul, Emi and Takeno.
Man of the match - Shaunne Hughes
Sleeveless Jersey of the Match - Jerry Brady