Dateline: 26th January, 2014
The Tokyo Gaijin RFC played their first game of 2014 on a freezing Sunday afternoon in Kawagoe, Saitama. Despite the strong gale which reduced the temperature markedly and a rather rusty performance, the team was able to start the year with a narrow 35 v 30 win.
Having had just one training run in the last two months under their belt the Gaijin started with a team rewarded for attending the first training run of 2014, the week before. Three new recruits were to start from the reserves bench in young English winger/halfback Taichi Hobbs, Australian prop Aaron Watkin and Fijian centre Sovita Tai. Guest player, Motoki's mate, was also having a run with the team.
Despite a strong start from the Kawagoe team aided by a strong gale at their back and an error from the Gaijin at the kickoff to start the game, the Gaijin managed to fight their way off their own tryline and score first through Takashi Taniikawa. No shots at goal were taken as there were no goal posts in position.
The TGRFC continued to test the Kawagoe try line despite further kickoff errors and Mosese Rarasea was next to score when he took a short ball from an Eamonn Murphy tap about 8 metres from the Kawagoe line and bashed through a few defenders to score.
Sam Dereock finished the scoring for the Gaijin in the half by being on the end of quick hands along the backline and then out-pacing his opposite number to round him and score.
Before the half ended Kawagoe would score two tries to peg back the lead from 15 v 0 to 15 v 10.
The Gaijin were well led by captain for the day, Lachlan Ainley, who made countless charges through the centre of the ruck. The opposition found him difficult to put down. Takashi Tanikawa was also making some good ground from the back of the solid Gaijin scrum. In the backs, Mosese Rarasea was doing his usual big hit-ups and even got in closer to do some forwards work off some set-piece penalties. Sam Dereock had saved a few tries with good cover tackles and had managed to close down a few dangerous attacking plays despite being outnumbered.
So, despite runnning into a big wind, the Gaijin held a 5 point lead and, with that wind now behind them, could be reasonably expected to continue marching ahead and finish with a handsome win. Expectations are often wrong though and it was to be Kawagoe who scored the first two tries in a matter of 3 minutes to take a 20 v 15 lead. What happened? Well, big changes were made at halftime, but it can only come down to poor defense in the backs and lack of communication.
This continued 5 minutes later when Kawagoe raced away again for a 50 metre try with the backs looking dumbfounded and the forwards wondering what the heck was going on. Kawagoe had now scored three easy tries into a strong wind and led 25 v 15.
The Gaijin finally started to put things together again and tighten up their poor defense. They would score 4 more tries while Kawagoe would score just the one to win the game 35 v 30. Nik Pavesic got a double after two strong runs swatting off tacklers, and backs Toshi Miyano and Taichi Hobbs got one apiece. It was a try on debut for Hobbs and it was a touch fortuitous when the pass out to him bobbled along the ground. Luckily the overlap and ground needed to be covered by the defense was large enough for the pass to be scooped up and Hobbs did the rest.
The Gaijin wouldn't be entirely happy with the win. While it is always good to start a new season with a win the Gaijin have a lot of problems to iron out before the Tokyo Cup season starts in April. The backline defense was really poor at times. Individually the backline players did some good things in attack, but as a unit, especially in defense, they seem like strangers with big gaps opening up for their opposition.
The forwards need to work on their kickoff receptions with many of them going to ground or being knocked on and putting the team under immediate pressure. Perhaps veteran Murray Clarke should help with this at training as he was the only forward who seemed to be able to catch the high ball.
Lachlan Ainley had a strong match as he continued to smash it up as he had in the first half but he was slightly overshadowed by openside flanker Nik Pavesic for Man of the Match. Pavesic had a blinder of a second half with strong running and numerous breaks.
Score: TGRFC 35 (Nik Pavesic 2, Takashi Taniikawa 1, Mosese Rarasea 1, Sam Deroeck 1, Taichi Hobbs 1. Toshi Miyano 1 tries) Kawagoe Fighters 30 (6 tries)
NOTE: There were no goal posts so conversions were not attempted.
Man of the Match: Nik Pavesic
1. Lachlan Ainley (c) (Australia)
2. Tomohiro Setoguchi (Japan)
3. Takeo Honda (Japan)
4. Andy Tindall (England)
5. Natsu Kunitomo (Japan)
6. Joffa Harris (Australia)
7. Nik Pavesic (Croatia)
8. Takashi Tanikawa (Japan)
9. Eamonn Murphy (Ireland)
10. Toshi Miyano (Japan)
11. Ryo Takahashi (Japan/USA)
12. Mosese Rarasea (Fiji)
13, Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
14. Sam Deroeck (England)
15. Phillip Ferreira (South Africa)
Reserves: Liam Ramshaw (England), Aaron Watkin (Australia), Murray Clarke (NZ), Motoki Mitsuyori (Japan), Motoki's mate (Japan), Apisai Bati (Fiji), Sovita Tai (Fiji), Wataru Sato (Japan), Taichi Hobbs (England), Yamagen (Japan)