Dateline: 20th & 21st July, 2013
The Tokyo Gaijin always look forward to their annual trip to the mountains and green fields of Sugudaira. It's great to play on lush green grass for a change and to escape the heat and humidity of Tokyo. The management had had some trouble getting the required numbers but thankfully captain Richard O' Shea, Kinta Kaneda and Yuji Takaku were chauffeured up there by Yamagen and survived the journey, to give the team a full squad and a couple of reserves.
The 7's on the Saturday were nothing to write home about with the Gaijin side, packed with forwards and a few slow backs, winning only one of three games. In the 15's on the Sunday, the game we were all looking forward to, Murray Clarke was the star of the show, scoring a hatrick of tries (his first ever according to the man himself), to help the Gaijin to a stunning comeback win over Daen RFC.
The Gaijin were short of backs when the game kicked off with Phillip Ferreira having badly banged up his elbow in the 7's the day before so emergency measures were taken with Gorka Gerediaga moving into outside centre. The man is quite a utility and can play anywhere in the forward pack but this was his first game in the backs.
The Gaijin started poorly as is so often the case with Sota Kaneko kicking the ball out on the full. Within 5 minutes Daen had spun the ball wide and a simple wrap around created an extra man and they went ovre to score in the left corner. The conversion attempt from the side line was unsuccessful leaving the score at 0 v 5 to Daen RFC.
From the kickoff Gaz Dalrymple collared the ball carrier and was penalised, and warned, for his high tackle. This got Daen down into Gaijin territory. Good defense for a long period in their own 22 metre area was finally rewarded when a few ruck penalties finally got the Gaijin into the Daen half.
A nice 15 metre drive from a line out was rewarded when standoff Sota Kaneko sliced stright through the defense to score under the posts. Yamagen's successful conversion gave thee Gaijin a 7 v 5 lead.
The Gaijin let the kickoff bounce but, fortuitously, they got a nice bounce and then the forwards banged it up into Daen's 22 metre area. Sota Kaneko put in an angled grubber kick for the corner and wing Cato Bauer won the race for the ball and dived on it to score. A good effort by the youngster to score a try in only his second game of rugby. Yamagen failed with the wide conversion leaving the score at 12 v 5.
Another poor kickoff reception followed with the usually reliable Richard O'Shea knocking the ball on and putting the Gaijin under immediate pressure. The Daen club worked the ball to the right, sucking across the Gaijin forwards, and then immediately spun it back to the left, where a numerical advantage saw them score in exactly the same position as their first try in the left corner. They failed with the conversion again leaving the Gaijin with a slender 12 v 10 lead.
Soon after Murray Clarke was sinbinned for a high tackle. The tackle was high on the chest, but to be fair, the Daen player had slipped into it. No matter how captain Richard O'Shea argued the severity of the punishment the referee disagreed. He later said that as he had warned the team aftre Gaz Dalrymple's high tackle he had no choice but to use the yellow card. How expensive was Clarke's time in the yellow chair going to be for the Gaijin side? Time would tell!
Sota Kaneko was heavily involved in the next try but for the other team. Kaneko, with a three on one advantage to his team threw a cut-out ball over the top to his winger. The Daen number 11, having a field day down the left flank, gratefully accepted the intercept and raced 25 metres to score. With the successful conversion the score was now 12 v 17 to Daen RFC.
Kaneko made up for his mistake soon after with a good cover tackle saving a try on the left. The ball carrier went into touch but managed to roll the ball infield before he went over the side line. Daen immediately spread the ball to the right and once again a great cover tackle, this time from fullback Jo Iwasaki, took the opposite Daen winger into touch on the corner flag.
Despite the desperate defense the Gaijin soon cracked and daen managed to score under the posts through good hit and hand-off work. The conversion put them out to a comfortable 12 v 24 lead.
Clarke's 10 minute sinbin stint was looking very costly as he re-entered the game looking to make amends.
The Gaijin limped into half time with no further damage to the score but did not look a very confident bunch. A lot of guys were complaining that the high altitude made it tougher to breathe but we all know that it was the excessive amount of drinking last night at the Lettuce party and the shenanigans afterwards that was to blame.
The Gaijin had 40 minutes to make the ride back home more enjoyable but did not start the second half too well. Takeshi Ochiai, running out of his own 22 metre area, had almost gone through a hole in the defense but inexpicably decided to lob the ball to Sota Kaneko. A Daen player gleefully accepted the gift and raced away to score his team's second intercept try of the game. The conversion put them out to a seemingly insurmountable 12 v 31 lead.
Good work from the forwards (again) saw Kinta Kaneda get good front foot ball and run across field and link up with Gorka Gerdiaga, who ran a nice straight line for valuable yards upfield. As he came to the last defender Gerediaga threw a pass back inside to Sota Kaneko who scored under the posts. Yamagen's conversion trimmed the lead to 19 v 31.
The Gaijin realised it was now or never and started to play a lot more 'pick and drives' from the back of the ruck. Halfback Kinta Kaneda was organizing the play well and adding his own little darts every now and then. The Gaijin could feel themselves getting on top of the tiring Daen forward pack.
It was at this stage that Murray Clarke, after previously begging to be replaced, started to get his second wind. With his fellow forwards working in tandem, and not letting the backs have the ball, the Gaijin were making good ground. Clarke certainly made up for his first half sinbinning as he stormed over for three tries in succession during the next 10 minutes. All were classic pick and drives with Clarke bumping off would-be tacklers on his way to the try line. Yamagen converted them all to give the Gaijin back the lead at 40 v 31.
The Gaijin finished the scoring with a try to Aurelion Anatolinez who was pushed over the line with the help of Don Tanaka. Yamagen failed with this one but the referee soon was blowing fulltime and the Gaijin had staged an amazing come back to win 45 v 31, scoring the last 33 points of the game.
Though the Gaijin backs seemed to be trying their best to lose the game early in the piece with some 'rubbish' play it was the forwards who had won the game. The backs tackling was quite shite at times, reminiscent of a Spanish Bullfighter letting the bulls run past him. It's hard to group Kinta Kaneda in that group as he had a superb game at half back, showing good vision and communicating very well with his forwards. He was happy to keep the forwards crashing it one off up the ruck and the game was never going to be won in the Gaijin backs. Sota Kaneko was hot and cold producing some moments of brilliance and then making a ssilly mistake.
The forwards were very good at what forwards are supposed to do. They crashed the ball up, improved their speed to the break down in the second half, rucked very strongly and supported each other well. Murray Clarke was the obvious choice for Man of the Match and he will probably go back into retirement feeling very happy with himself. I'm sure the team would like to see him out on the field more often but as he hits the big '40' within the next year he has said that that is it! Fulltime retirement beckons. We'll see.
The bus trip back home was a fairly staid affair when compared with years past but most guys were still gettting over the night before. It was vary happy bunch that pulled into Ikebukro though. Winners are grinners!
Thanks to Natsu Kunitomo, Jo Iwasaki and Ikuo Fukuda for their organization of the tour and for keeping everything running smoothly. Cheers.
Score : TGRFC 45 (Murray Clarke 3, Sota Kaneko 2, Cato Bauer 1, Aurelion Anatolinez 1 tries; Yamagen 5/7 conversions) Daen RFC 31 (5 tries, 3/5 conversions)
Man of the Match: Murray Clarke
Goat(s) of the Match: Sota Kaneko, Takeshi Ochiai (for those two intercepted passes)
1. Tomohiro Setoguchi (Japan)
2. Yuji Takaku (Japan)
3. Tsuanki 'Don' Tanaka (Japan)
4. Richard O'Shea (c) (Wales)
5. Andy Tindall (England)
6. Gaz Dalrymple (Scotland)
7. Takeshi Ochiai (Japan)
8. Murray Clarke (NZ)
9. Kinta Kaneda (Japan)
10. Sota Kaneko (Japan)
11. Ikuo Fukuda (Japan)
12. Yamagen (Japan)
13. Gorka Gerediaga (Basque)
14. Cato Bauer (USA)
15. Jo Iwasaki (Japan)
Reserves: Joffa Harris (Australia), Aurelien Anatolinez (France)