Dateline: 20th October, 2013
On a day best suited for ducks the Tokyo Gaijin RFC were up against Shinjuku Jacks in the fourth round of the Tokyo Cup. With a typhoon approaching Japan, the heavens had opened and the rain was bucketing down. Tatsumi field, a delicious rectangle of green grass (yes, delicious, because we don't get much green grass, especially this close to the city centre) usually drains well but even it was struggling with the constant down-pour and had a sheet of water on its surface.
The opposition, Shinjuku Jacks, had been the big improvers in the Shuto League and had only been beaten by 3 points by Olivers RFC earlier in the league, whilst the Gaijin had been beaten by about 40 points by the same opposition. All players were expecting a tough game and the TGRFC squad was a little short on numbers, perhaps due to the conditions, making the mission even tougher.
Before kickoff the TGRFC had to resort to moving ever-reliable flanker Shinchiro Nakayama to centre to cover a short-fall in the backs. No worries as they had another Mr. Perpetual Motion in Dan Worden making one of his rare appearances of the year and slipping into the open-side flanker role. Nakayama also took over the captain's responsibilities as usual captain Richard O'Shea was unavailable. Young Frenchman Aurelien Antolinez would also be having his first game at hooker for the club. The team would also have a debutante in 19 year old Hiroyuki Kubota, an Under 19 representative for Hong Kong. The half-chinese, half-Japanese lock or flanker was immediately nicknamed Snowy by Aussie prop Lachlan Ainley due to his height and name - 'Yuki' - and that strange Australian way of calling people what they are not eg. 'shorty' for a tall guy.
The Gaijin started the game full of vigor and kept the ball tight and close to the ruck. The forwards crashed it up and had the Jacks players back-pedaling under the barrage. Half-back Eamonn Murphy was the first to score when he took advantage of the Jacks concentration on the Gaijin forward runners, threw a clever dummy, and raced over to score. Mosese Rarasea couldn't add the extras but the Gaijin had the start they wanted and led 5 v 0 within the first 5 minutes.
The Gaijin would increase the lead when the their scrum forced a turnover and a few rucks later Tsunaki 'Don' Tanaka dived through some defenders to score. Again, Rarasea missed the conversion, but the 10 v 0 lead was very handy in the conditions.
Shinjuku Jacks got back into the game with the next try when they went wide from a scrum and beat the defense all too easily. They failed with their conversion and were now down only 10 v 5.
The Gaijin went close to scoring again as the half came to an end but the ball was knocked on over the line as Takashi Tanikawa bit off more than he could chew and dived over under the posts despite heavy attention. As an afterthought the team should have been more patient and recycled the ball and waited for a better opportunity.
So the Gaijin would go into halftime with a 10 v 5 lead. There was some concern that the lead was not enough considering that the Shinjuku Jacks would have the slight wind advantage and the Gaijin would have the rain in their face. "Keep the ball in the hand" was the catchcry at halftime and "keep trucking it up close to the ruck" was another.
The Gaijin were the first to put points on the board in the second half when Joffa Harris made a big break up through the middle of the ruck. As he appraoched the fullback he chipped ahead, ignoring the halftime catchcry. The ball splayed to the right and the Jacks winger got back in time to recover the ball. Joffa managed to scrag him and force him to lose the ball. Dan worden was then on the spot to force the turnover and the ball was quickly recycled to big Aussie prop Lachlan Ainley who busted through two tacklers to score. Rarasea converted and the Gaijin now led 17 v 5.
The Shinjuku Jacks then put together a strong period of play where they dominated possession in the Gaijin 22 metre area, but good defense kept them out. They had a few chances with rucks just metres from the Gaijn line but the defense and a great steal from Takashi Tanikawa allowed the Gaijin to work their way out of trouble.
Fill-in captain Shinichiro Nakayama scored the next try for the Gaijin with a strong run and the score now ballooned out to 22 v 5 despite Rarasea's missed conversion.
The rest of the game was a tight tussle with neither team giving any quarter. Both teams defended stoutly but the Gaijin began to give away needless penalties. In fact Gaijin captain Shinichiro Nakayama was penalised for the third time for a ruck infringement and given a yelllow card. Most of the calls could have gone either way but the referee felt that Shin jumped the gun and took the halfback or the ball before the ball was out of the back of the ruck. People see it differently and the referee saw it the other way.
The Gaijin managed to keep their cool and continue defending their line despite Shinjuku Jacks late dominance of possession and territory but the one-man advantage finally did tell and they managed to sccore the final try of the game but once again failed with their conversion, continuing a tough night for the goal kickers, making the final score 22 v 10 to the Gaijin.
The Tokyo Gaijin RFC had played the perfect game for the conditions. Their handling was also very good considering the conditions were hardly condusive to good handling and perhaps they had better handling than they usually do on a dry day. The forwards were incessant in driving the ball forward close to the ruck, dominating the hit and then driving over in support. Andy Tindall, playing at loose head prop, had his best game for the Gaijin since joining the club. The Gaijin forwards also dominated in the set piece but the Shinjuku Jacks forwards had toiled manfully and scrapped hard all day making it a tight contest at the ruck.
The Shinjuku Jacks dominated in the backs but their handling let them down. Shinichiro Nakayama did a great job in his first appearance at outside centre for the Gaijin but sometimes there would be holes because his forward instincts had him in more rucks than necessary. Mosese Rarasea had some of his usual powerful charges one off the ruck, scattering defenders as he charged into them, but was found out a few times in defense, perhaps due to a lack of fitness. Overall, though, the cover defense managed to plug these holes. Ryo Tanaka had a good game on the wing, especially in defense, after having only played a handful of games for the Gaijin at flanker, and half Eamonn Murphy had the opposition guessing with his probing runs and quick ruck-work.
The Man of the Match was tough to pick as everyone had played well, especially the forward pack. Tsunaki 'Don' Tanaka had a bulldozing second half after a few silly errors in the first half and Takashi Tanikawa was good all over the field, getting some valuable steals at important times. As it was difficult to split them they were joint Man of the Match winners.
The Management didn't want to pick a Goat of the Game as there were no standout stuffups and everyone played well but captain Shinichiro Nakayama had to get it for that yellow card.
So, despite the terrible wet and windy condtions, the boys thoroughly enjoyed the game and now have 3 wins from 4 in the 2013 Shuto League competition.
SCORE: TGRFC 22 (Eamonn Murphy 1, Tsunaki Tanaka 1, Lachlan Ainley 1, Shinichiro Nakayama 1 tries, M. Rarasea 1/4 conversions) Shinjuku Jacks 10 (2 tries, 0/2 conversions)
Men of the Match: Tsuanki 'Don' Tanaka, Takashi Tanikawa
Goat of the Match: Shinichiro Nakayama
1. Andy Tindall (England)
2. Aurelien Antolinez (France)
3. Tsunaki 'Don' Tanaka (Japan)
4. Gorka Gerediaga (Basque)
5. Lachlan Ainley (Australia)
6. Joffa Harris (Australia)
7. Daniel Worden (NZ)
8. Takashi Tanikawa (Japan)
9. Eamonn Murphy (Ireland)
10. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
11. Ryo Tanaka (USA)
12. Mosese Rarasea (Fiji)
13. Shinichiro Nakayama (c) (Japan)
14. Wataru Sato (Japan)
15. Junpei Shirakawa (Japan)
Reserves used: Takeo Kondo (Japan), Hiroyuki 'Snowy' Kubota (Hong Kong), Jo Iwasaki (Japan)