Timeline: October 26th, 2014
In a tough, gritty match at Yanokuchi Field the Tokyo Gaijin RFC prevailed over the Tokyo Crusaders to continue their winning run in the Shuto League. The close 13 v 10 result means that they remain undefeated so far in this campaign after four rounds. It did not come without cost though as 3 players came off the field injured and two went straight off to hospital. Angus Brown got four stitches just above his eye after a head clash with his own player, Guillermo Alonso, who was also sporting a blood red-tinged headband at the end of the match. Apisa Bati was also replaced midway through the second half with a rather nasty thumb injury which also required stitches.
The match was also marred with numerous penalties and three yellow cards, the first against the Crusaders and then two to the TGRFC as the referee lost patience with illegal ruck play and high tackles.
From the kickoff, the Tokyo Gaijin RFC were immediately under the pump as the big Crusader forwards charged up the middle of the ruck. In fact the Gaijin had trouble getting out of their half in the first ten minutes and spent a lot of it camped inside their own 22 metre area. Goof defense kept their tryline uncrossed in this time but weight of possession and the constant tackling required finally saw their line breached when the Crusaders left winger went over the tryline but the referee called it back for a forward pass.
This spurred the Gaijin on and the big boot of Angus Brown finally gave them some breathing space when he finally got the Gaijin into Crusaders territory from a ruck penalty. A strong Gaijin rolling maul got them 10 metres into the Crusaders half and the Gaijin were awarded another penalty for a maul infringement against the Crusaders. Brown missed the attempted penalty but the Gaijin had new-found belief.
From the 22 drop-out Brown took the catch, flicked it onto Toshinori 'Dati' Minamidate, and Dati threw a no-look pass out to his winger Jay Leroy who turned on the gas down the riverside side-line and outsprinted the defense to race around and score under the posts at about the 20 minute mark. Angus Brown converted what would be the only try for the Gaijin to make the score 7 v 0 to the TGRFC.
After another ten minutes of intense back and forward rugby, with the Gaijin hot on the attack after another penalty the Crusaders halfback was yellow-carded for cynically interfering with a quick tap form the penalty mark.
Soon after, the Gaijin increased their lead when Brown once again stepped up to nail a penalty making the score 10 v 0 to the Gaijin which they held 'til halftime.
The Crusaders started the second half poorly when their kickoff didn't go the required ten metres. Conversely, the Gaijin started strongly and a good Takashi Tanikawa run from the back of the Gaijin scrum led to some strong attack. Guillermo Alonso, in just his second game for the Gaijin, should have scored but he was caught from behind as he raced for the tryline.
About 10 minutes into the half, Gaijin flanker Apisai Bati was taken form the field with a serious hand injury. He would later need his thumb bone pushed back in and some stitches. He was replaced by another old-timer in Joffa Harris but the Gaijin would seriously miss Bati's powerful surges.
The Gaijin continued to attack and about 5 minutes later should have scored again. The ball was passed quickly along the line to an unmarked Takashi Tanikawa, out on the right side of the posts. The cover defense came across to claim him as he put the ball down over the tryline and he knocked the ball on. It was poor play from the usually reliable Tanikawa and he should have just dived instead of trying to put the ball down on the run and under pressure.
The Gaijin continued to put pressure on the Crusaders and had numerous close calls as they attacked the Crusaders line. Hitoshi Chihara was guilty of 'white line fever' on two occasions when he should have passed the ball to his supports. The first was a quick tap when Chihara charged at a big group of solid Crusaders fowards. He was never going to get through that wall. He also chose to charge at the line moments later when the Gaijin had a two man overlap.
The Crusaders defense held solid though and were starting to make ground through their elusive wingers (the way they moved I suspect they were American footballers....didn't make a lot of ground forward but hard to put down all the same with their zigging and zagging).
The Crusaders finally managed to cross the Gaijin line down in the right corner after a string of penlties and concerted charges. After the try was awarded the referee sent Gaijin centre Sovita Tui to the sinbin for a hign tackle (or was it for flopping on the tryscorer?). The Crusaders kicker failed with the wide conversion to leave the score 10 v 5. They were back in the game and one man up.
With about 15 minutes to go and the Crusaders hot on the attack, Gaijin halfback Alonso Guillermo and standoff Angus Brown, had a head clash as they attempted a tackle. Both of them had to leave the field with deep cuts and ringing heads.
From this point the Gaijin lost a lot of structure but their scrum continued to dominate the bigger Crusaders forward pack at one stage pushing them back 10 metres with Takashi Tanikawa skillfully controlling the ball at the back. On the back of this strong set piece the Gaijin got into the Crusaders 22 metre area and earned a penalty. Captain Lachlan Ainley pointed at the sticks and it was only then that the Gaijin realised they didn't have a recognised kicker with Angus Brown off the field. Hitoshi Chihara stepped forward to take the relatively easy kick from just to the left of the posts and 15 metres out and stabbed it just inside the right upright. The Gaijin now had a 13 v 5 lead and the Crusaders would have to score twice to take the poiints.
The Crusaders would never die wondering as they immediately went into full attack. With about 6 minutes to play the Crusaders managed to score in the left corner this time as the same winger for their first try in the right corner dived over again. After the try the Gaijin were once again reduced to 14 men when Jay Leroy was penalised for a high tackle on the try-scorer. In his defense it is pretty hard to go low on someone diving for the try line. The sideline conversion was unsuccessful and the Gaijin would have slightly less than 5 minutes to defend their slender lead. Score 13 v 10 to the Gaijin.
The Crusaders finished the game all over the Gaijin but resolute defense kept them at bay. With time up on the clock and a final line-out to the Gaijin 10 metres out from their own line, the ball was gathered in and finally kicked into touch by prop Masayuki Ishijima to keep the Gaijin's undefeated 2014 Shuto League campaign on track and continue a lengthy winning streak over the Tokyo Crusaders.
The Gaijin tight five were immense in the scrums and consistently pushed their heavier opponents backwards. This allowed No.8 Takashi Tanikawa free reign at the back and he made many good runs from that position. He was awarded Man of the Match for this (despite the try blunder) but would have the rest of the pack to thank for the award. Apisai Bati was also responsible for some powerful assaults on the opposition's defenders and constantly fended off much bigger men. The team felt his loss when he was taken from the field injured.
The Gaijin backs played well but were under-utilsed. When they were presented with opportunities out wide they constantly made ground. The Crusaders centres were very big for backs so the Gaijin should have utilised the speed of Jay Leroy and Toshihiro Minamidate more. Instead the ball was often punched up through the centres which made it easier for the bigger Crusaders pack to get to the centre of the action.
Angus Brown was the pick of the backs and his attacking intent orchestrated the Gaijin backs well. His strong boot helped gain large amounts of territory and was unltimately responsible for the winning margin. He also hoisted a few well aimed bombs as he realised that a few of the Crusaders backs were weak under the high ball. The Gaijin felt his absence when he and Guillermo Alonso were taken from the field midway through the second half after their head clash.
The Crusaders played strongly and their big forward pack were willing ball carriers. Their scrum, despite it's bulk, was a let-down for them. They finished on top and with a few more minutes may have run down the Gaijin's lead but would go home unlucky runners-up.
Both teams showed stern, resolute defense which could be seen in the low scoreline.
A special mention should go to Inigo Carro who played his first game for the Gaijin, despite it only being a few minutes at the end. Also, many thanks to prop Masayuki Ishijima who was powerful in the front row and answered an SOS when three regular Gaijin props were out of town.
SCORE: TGRFC 13 (Jay Leroy 1 try, Angus Brown 1/1 conversions, 1/2 penalties. Hitoshi Chihara 1/1 penalties) Tokyo Crusaders 10 (2 tries, 0/2 conversions)
Man of the Match: Takashi Tanikawa
1. Lachlan Ainley (c) (Australia)
2. Liam Ramshaw (England)
3. Masayuki Ishijima (Japan)
4. John Simpson (USA)
5. Richard O'Shea (Wales)
6. Apisai Bati (vc) (Fiji)
7. Hiroyuki Tada (Japan)
8. Takashi Tanikawa (Japan)
9. Guillermo Alonso (Spain)
10. Angus Brown (Scotland)
11. Jay Leroy (Canada)
12. Sovita Tui (Fiji)
13. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
14. Ryo Takahashi (Japan)
15. Toshinori 'Dati' Minamidate (Japan)
Reserves Used; Joffa Harris (Australia), Paul Bertier (France), Inigo Carro (England), Wataru Sato (Japan)
Unused reserves: Will Baker (Wales), Michael Koch (Germany), Ryogo Takemura (Japan), Hidenobu Sato (Japan)