Dateline: 14th september, 2014
The Gaijin had a tough mission in their first round Shuto League clash at Akigase Koen near Musashi Urawa. They were up against League newcomers: Koryo RFC. Until recently Koryo were even above Tokyo Cup 1st Division and played in the East Japan Division. The Gaijin had played them in the Tokyo Cup 1st Division (after their demotion) 2 years ago and despite having a strong squad, narrowly lost. If they wished to get their Shuto League season off to a good start and win the trophy they desperately coveted after being runners up for the past two years, then they would need to play as well as they could.
It was to be tight five member Andy Tindall's last game after two years in Japan but the Gaijin were also anticipating strong displays from off-season recruits Taichi Nakajima, Jay Leroy and Toshinori Minamidate. What's more, big American lock John Simpson was back after 12 months out of the game undertaking a knee reconstruction. They also had ex-Gaijin and current Singapore resident Mauro 'Beef' Sauco making a guest appearance for the first time in 5 years (apart from his Manila 10's junkets).
The warm up didn't look promising as the Gaijin realised they didn't really have an accomplished jumper in their lineout, having lost three good jumpers over the last 6 months (Shinichiro Nakajima - Osaka, Dan Worden - injury & Takeshi Ochiai - Singapore). Takashi Tanikawa stepped up to take the role of No.1 jumper while John Simpson practised at No.2. The opposition may have been laughing if they saw the warm up, but beggars can't be choosers and the Gaijin would have to be happy with what they had.
Koryo didn't start well themselves with their kickoff failing to go the required 10 metres. Takashi Tanikawa peeled off the back of the scrum on halfway, as the opposition would see many times today, and made good ground. The Gaijin soon lost the ball though and suddenly Koryo looked very dangerous on attack.
A penalty to Koryo was kicked deep into the Gaijin half and they mauled it towards the line. The Gaijin managed to keep them out and then earned a penalty following a big tackle from John Simpson. The Gaijin cleared the ball to halfway and then put on a huge drive. The attacking intent was abandoned though when match-day captain Apisai Bati put in a cross-field kick into the corner to nobody. All his backs were deep and there were no chasers. Koryo ran it out with intent and got all the way to halfway but luckily for the Gaijin the break-out fell away with a loose pass.
The match continued like this for the next 5 minutes as both teams had chances and surged forward. It was to be Koryo to score first after Gaijin standoff Sota Kaneko failed to find touch. Koryo made him pay for his mistake and a nice run down the pond-side of the field with quick hands saw the Koryo No.8 fake a dummy pass and beat the two cover defenders who imprudently went for the same wrong man. He scored close to the posts to make it easier for his kicker and after the successful conversion Koryo were up 7 v 0 at about the 10 minute mark..
It was only early in the game but the Gaijin could have dropped their bundle. Instead, they realised that they had matched Koryo so far and took the challenge. They marched their way up to the Koryo tryline with some strong play and managed to charge down a Koryo clearance kick. A Koryo player fumbled the ball behind his own try line and was then caught behind it. From the ensuing 5 metre scrum the Gaijin put on a vigorous push and Takashi Tanikawa dived on the ball at the back of the scrum for a nice push-over try. It went unconverted by Sota Kaneko to leave the score at 7 v 5 to Koryo.
The Gaijin let the ball bounce off the kickoff but Tanikawa beat his opponents to it and took off on a good ground-making run. The ball was stolen in the next phase of play but Koryo only managed to kick it into touch 30 metres out from their own line. The Gaijin then coughed up position with two mistakes when Apisai Bati failed to catch a poor lineout throw as he ran from the back to the front and then Ryo Takahashi spilled a high kick just inside his own half. They were almost made to pay for their errors when the big Koryo number 8 charged down-field but he was bundled into touch. The Gaijin then had a kick partially charged down but Taichi Nakajima managed to collect it and in the next play, Sota Kaneko was the recipient of that good fortune when he broke thrrough the defense with a nice dummy for a try. He also successfully converted to put the Gaijin out to their first lead of the game at 12 v 7.
The Gaijin then started to break more tackles with good hard running but it would be Koryo that would score next and take back the lead. A messy tap-down from a Gaijin line-out produced scrappy ball. Koryo came up with it and put through a kick to be just 15 metres out from the Gaijin line. They won the lineout and then produced a powerful maul to drive over the tryline and score. The successful conversion gave them a narrow lead of 14 v 12.
Gaijin game day captain Apisai Bati led his team back to the front by taking a high ball and producing a strong run. A good period of play followed with some good, strong surges by the forwards with short balls off the ruck and Bati went over to score. Sota Kaneko converted and the Gaijin were back in the lead at 19 v 14.
The Gaijin again fluffed the kickoff but a big run from Sovita Tui soon after and some continued good passing had the Gaijin pressing on the Koryo line with a 5 metre scrum. Superior strength and scrummaging had them surging forward and Takashi Tanikawa at No.8 was the recipient of a drive-over scrum try. Kaneko failed wiht the conversion this time but the Gaijin's lead was now 24 v 14 and this lead would hold until halftime.
Overall, it had been a very competitve and even half. The Gaijin found the Koryo rolling maul from line-outs hard to stop but the Gaijin had the superior scrum. The backlines were quite even though Koryo coughed up the ball at times when they had the Gaijin stretched and Gaijin centre Sovita Tui was making plenty of in-roads into Koryo territory with powerful bursts.
The Gaijin went close to scoring the first points of the second half after a strong run from Toshinori Minamidate was followed by a big break from Apisai Bati but Taishi Nakajima lost the ball on the try-line after a big tackle from behind. Sota Kaneko also put Koryo under pressure with a good kick and chase but the ball was hurriedly cleared forcing a 5 metre line-out. Minamidate finally did get the Gaijin the the first points of the half following some good close-to-the ruck phase play and Kaneko converted to put the Gaijin out to a 31 v 14 lead.
Once again the Gaijin stuffed the kick-off when Andy Tindall dropped the ball but it was evident that the Koryo side were tiring as they found it harder to put down some of the Gaijin big men. This was clearly evident when big Argentinian Mauro Sauco surged over for a try. He was first tackled about 20 metres out from the Koryo try-line but like a steam train he seemed to be thinking 'I'll huff and I'll puff until I reach that try-line". He bumped off a couple of high tacklers despite being held around the legs, then broke the low tackle as well, and then bumped off a few more would-be tacklers as he charged at the line. An excellent try and a brilliant show of determination. Kaneko converted and the Gaijin now had a seemingly uncatchable lead of 38 v 14.
The Gaijn were now starting to make more clear breaks but the last pass was often not sticking - a result of poor hands rather than poor passes. It was Koryo that would score next thought as the game became quite loose and the Gaijin failed to play to the whistle. Sovita Tui dropped a pass and he and the surrounding Gaijin players seemed to give up and Koryo played on and scored the try. It went unconverted making the score 38 v 19.
Before the following kickoff Mosese Rarasea was given a yellow card for a late and dangerous tackle in the preceding play for which he was given the Goat of the game award later.
The Gaijin would have the last say of the game after a very good lead-up run from Yamagen. Apisai Bati broke the line soon after and offloaded to Phillip Ferreira. He in turn offloaded to Toshinori Minamidate, running a great angle, and he scored under the posts. Yamagen converted and the final score was 45 v 19 to the Gaijin.
The Gaijin played much better than their last training session and pre-match warmup would suggest. Game day captain Apisai Bati led powerfully from the front. He was well supported by his fellow forwards, especially new recruit Taichi Nakajima. It was good to see Mauro Sauco back in Gaijin colours, even if it was just for one game, as his strong charges gave the Gaijin impetus.
All three new recruits must give the Gaijin some feelings of excitement looking forward as they all played very well. As mentioned above 20 year old Taichi Nakajima was 'perpetual motion' personified. Toshinori Minamidate was rock-solid at the back and made some well-timed incisive runs. Jay Leroy, who has played very litlle rugby and would feel more comfortable on an American Football field, showed some glimpses of what he is capable of and seems to glide across the field - some serious pace there and something the Gaijin have been lacking off late.
It was also positive to see Hiroyuki Ikeuchi out having a run after quite a break from rugby and club captain Lachlan Ainley had a short spell near the end of the game after a shoulder injury had kept him out for 3 months. John Simpson also got through the full game after his long break and Sovita Tui had his best game for the club after joining earlier this year. Sota Kaneko had a good game at standoff and probably showed management that that is his best position after being moved around to wing and fullback recently.
At the end of the day, it was difficult to separate all of these good performances but hard to overlook all the good work of Takashi Tanikawa for Man of the Match. He ran with purpose from the back of the scrum, made numerous breaks and topped it off with two nice tries.
Thanks to Murray Clarke (first half) and Blake Walker (2nd half) for taking game notes.
SCORE: TGRFC 45 (Takashi Tanikawa 2, Toshinori Minamidate 2, Sota Kaneko 1, Apisai Bati 1, Mauro Sauco 1 tries; S. Kaneko 4/6, Yamagen 1/1 conversions) Koryo 19 (3 tries; 2/3 conversions)
Man of the Match: Takashi Tanikawa
Goat of the Game: Mosese Rarasea
1. Gorka Gerediaga (Basque)
2. Tomohiro Setoguchi (Japan)
3. Tsunaki 'Don' Tanaka (Japan)
4. Andy Tindall (England)
5. John Simpson (USA)
6. Apisai Bati (c) (Fiji)
7. Taichii Nakajima (Japan)
8. Takashi Tanikawa (Japan)
9. Eamonn Murphy (Ireland)
10. Sota Kaneko (vc) (Japan)
11. Wataru Sato (Japan)
12. Sovita Tui (Fiji)
13. Jay Leroy (Canada)
14. Ryo Takahashi (Japan)
15. Toshinori Minamidate (Japan)
Reserves: Warren Adamson (South Africa), Liam Ramshaw (England), Lachlan Ainley (Australia), William Baker (England), Mauro Sauco (Argentina), Hidenobu Sato (Japan), Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (Japan), Mosese Rarasea (Fiji), Phillip Ferreira (South Africa). Akira Yamagen (Japan)