Dateline: 25th January, 2015

The first game for the Tokyo Gaijin RFC in 2015 was an annual fixture against Kawagoe Fighters at Kawagoe stadium up in woop-woop Saitama. The winter weather was mild compared to the cold windy day of the fixture last year. The Gaijin had assembled a squad of 22 players, but were missing some experienced players. In their place were 4 debutants, Michael Austin, Javi Menra, Kohei Suzuki and Keita Kobayashi. The trusty Yu Naito, captain of Zenkai Beers RFC, also answered the call for a prop and Glen Amos was having his first game of 15's with the club after debuting in 7's lst year.

Two 19 years olds were to be stars of the show for the Gaijin with Inigo Carro and Apisai Bati Junior stealing the limelight from their older team-mates (and lowering the average age quite a bit with three 40 year-olds in the squad). The Gaijin always looked in control, though there defense was sloppy at times, and they ended up comfortable 38 v 21 winners.

               

                                                      Good start to the year for the Tokyo gaijin RFC.

The early minutes of the game saw the Gaijin get the first few penalties (unusual) and some see-sawing play as both teams tried to establish dominance. Sovita Tui made a big run early and smashed his opposing centre backwards onto his behind but lost the ball soon after in a tackle from behind. Both teams showed a lot of rustiness early and with a number of new members the Gaijin took some time to gel.

It was to be the Gaijin that would take the first points and from then on, never be headed. From a scrum 10 metres into Kawagoe's half No.8 Glen Amos broke out with the ball, passed off to ApisaI Bati Junior in the tackle, who fed Sovita Tui in turn. Tui beat a few tackles and then passed a nice ball inside to Toshinori Minamidate, who ran a nice inside line to race away to score. Apisa Bati Junior converted to give the Gaijin a lead of 7 v 0.

The Gaijin went close to scoring 5 minutes later when Eamonn Murphy dummied about 30 metres out from the Fighters' line and found himself in a yawning gap. He was tackled from behind about 5 metres short. The ball was quickly recycled and Sovita Tui and Toshinori Minamidate were also cut down just metres short as they ran at the line on the other side of the field. The Gaijin failed to get over the line though and ended the sequence with a penalty as the Fighters crept up offside in their rush to prevent a try. From the lineout Captain Apisai Bati looked to be through for a try as the "banana move" paid off again but unfortunately the ball was dropped.

At this stage, Joffa Harris came on for debutant Michael Austin, who left the field with a slight groin strain in his first game of non-school-boy rugby.

The Gaijin backs were making good inroads but equally good last-ditch defense and silly handling errors were their enemies. Finally the backs were rewarded when Apisai Bati Junior stepped through a number of tackles for the first of his three tries. He also converted to give the Gaijin some space at 14 v 0.

Towards the end of the half, 5 minutes of pressure from Kawagoe finally told when a tap 10 metres out from the Gaijin line saw one of their forwards crash through some feeble defense. They converted and went into halftime down 14 v 7.

The game was close so far. Kawagoe could have had more points if not for some bad passing when they had overlaps. They also had a few guys with quality side-steps that were proving hard for the Gaijin to put down. The Gaijin had also left points out on the field with poor handling and some over-exuberance near the opposition's tryline when more patience and team cohesion would have been the better option.

At halftime some replacements were made by the Gaijin and they knew that they had to tighten up their defense and be careful with the penalties as the referee was starting to turn against them despite a positive start.

Things couldn't have started better in the second half.  From the kickoff Javi Menra was first man on the receiver and managed to come away with the ball. A quick recycle saw half Max Manson give a quick short ball to a hard-charging Mosese Rarasea, who stormed through a gap close to the ruck and ran away to score under the posts with his first touch of the ball. After crossing the tryline he ran the extra 20 metres to put the ball down under the posts to make the conversion easier for Apisai Bati Junior who duly converted. The Gaijin now led 21 v 7.

His dad, Apisai Bati, saved a certain try soon after for the Gaijin but then unexplicably kicked the ball away and the Fighters came charging back and eventually scored. It was converted to make the score 21 v 14 in favour of the Gaijin.

From the kickoff Gorka Gerediaga stripped the ball from the receiver and despite being in the middle of the ruck, managed to fling the ball over the top to Joffa Harris, who took off, swerved inside two defenders and went over the tryline in a tackle to score. The try was unconverted to leave the score at 26 v 14.

The Fighters clawed one back soon. A Gaijin turnover and superior numbers down the flank led to a Kawagoe outside back outpacing the converging Gaijin defense to run 55 metres to score out wide. The Kawagoe kicker failed to add the extras making the score 26 v 21.

The game was getting close but the Gaijin had the final say when Apisa Bati Junior picked up the last two tries of the game. The first came from about 25 metres out when he picked up a loose ball from a ruck and weaved his way through and around defenders to race away and score under the posts. This one was converted Yamagen. The second came after Kawagoe were penalised for hands all over the ball in the ruck. A quick  tap was offloaded to Mosese Rarasea who charged through a hole and then offloaded to Junior who put the icing on the cake by scoring under the posts. Yamagen, unbelievable failed with the converssion in front after taking a quick drop goal.

There was some rusty play on display but it wasn't a bad hit out for the Gaijin after 6 weeks of inactivity. The scrum continued on from last year, where it had overpowered many teams, showing marginal dominance. Support play for the Gaijin was good with Toshinori Minamidate, Sovita Tui, Apisai Bati & Apisa Bati Junior running excellent lines in support play. Mosese Rarasea was back to his bulldozing best in his short spell on the field. Javi Menra, a centre by trade, but playing as flanker, was influential in rucks and mauls and showed a lot of promise for the Gaijin. Max Manson, back on the field after a year out of the game, showed that he can still run (his pace is deceptive - he's actually slower than he looks) and set up Rarasea's try with quick ruck ball. Frontrowers Yu Naito and Tomohiro Setoguchi were willing ball carriers and new centre Kohei Suzuki was strong in contact. Glen Amos also showed a lot of promise with some bullocking runs. The tackling wasn't great with s few of the Kawagoe fleet-footed side-steppers proving to be quite evasive. Only last-ditch cover-defense and poor passing stopped them from scoring more tries. Overall, a pass mark for most players.

The Man of the Match Award was shared by youngsters Apisai Bati Junior & Inigo Carro. Junior scored three tries and was a constant threat to the Kawagoe Fighters players with his weaving runs, strength and vision. Inigo Carro, filling in at lock, did a great job in the lineouts. For someone who has never jumped in a lineout he did very well, winning all his ball and upsetting a few of his opposition's lineouts. He did well in a dominant Gaijin scrum and also tackled strongly and showed good pace and commitment in cover defense.

 

SCORE : TGRFC 38 (Apisai Bati Junior 3, Mosese Rarasea 1, Joffa Harris 1 tries; A. B. Junior 3/4. Yamagen 1/2 conversions) Kawagoe Fighters 21 (3 tries, 3/3 conversions)

Men of the Match: Apisa Bati Junior & Inigo Carro

Goat of the Game: Yamagen (for missing that kick from in front of the posts)

TEAM:

1. Gorka Gerediaga (Basque)

2. Tomohiro Setoguchi (Japan)

3. Yu Naito (Japan)

4. Inigo Carro (England)

5. Michael Austin (Australia)

6. Apisa Bati (c) (Fiji)

7. Javi Menra (Spain)

8. Glen Amos (England)

9. Eamonn Murphy (vc) (Ireland)

10. Apisai Bati Junior (Fiji)

11. Hidenobu Sato (Japan)

12. Sovita Tui (Fiji)

13. Kohei Suzuki (Japan)

14. Wataru Sato (Japan)

15. Toshinori Minamidate (Japan)

Reserves: Joffa Harris (Australia), Mosese Rarasea (Fiji), Keita Kobayashi (Japan), Max Manson (NZ), Jo Iwasaki (Japan), Ryo Takahashi (Japan), Akira Yamagen (Japan)

    

Joffa Harris shooting the boot after the game on the occassion of his 47th birthday.  He is undeterred by evdience that suggests excessive hops drinking gives you bitch-tits and impotence.