Dateline: 25th October, 2015
Shuto League front-runners Tokyo Gaijin RFC and Koryo RFC faced off in their third round match at Yanokuchi Rugby ground hoping to take sole possession of the lead at the top of the competition table. In a tough and brutal encounter the match ended in a 12 all draw keeping both teams joint leaders. No quarter was given in the often spiteful match with the referee having a talk to both captains on numerous occasions.
Koryo RFC are a Korean-based team. That is, all their players are second. third and fourth generation Koreans. They previously played in The East Japan League which is a division above Tokyo Cup 1st Division in which the TGRFC play in. They have fallen a bit in the past two years and the TGRFC managed to beat them in last year's Shuto League by a handsome score. This year there had been reports that they were getting back to full strength
There was a stong wind (or perhaps gale is more asppropriate) and the Gaijin started the match with that advantage behind them. In one of the biggest brain explosions of the year the Gaijin failed to utilize this tool at their backs and this cost them dearly. The Gaijin chose instead to take them on up front. While the Gaijin came out equal in the forwards it was the smarter option to let the ball do the work and leave 'gas' in the tank for the second half when they would be playing into this gale.
The Gaijin didn't have the best of starts when they let the kickoff bounce. Kickoffs have been a weakness all year for the team and will need a lot of work put into them as a good team should have quality kickoff receptions.
The Gaijin established scrum dominance early but "rubbish" handling and panic had them under pressure. There were four knock-ons in a period of 5 minutes in the first quarter. They needed someone, especially in the backline, to settle things down.
It wasn't until the 29th minute that someone troubled the scoreboard and it was to be the Gaijin. A terrible attempted grubber kick from captain Apisai Bati bobbled around and Gaijin No,.8 Takashi Tanikawa got a lucky bounce and passed back inside to Bati who scored under the posts. Harry Bucknell converted and the Gaijin had a 7 v 0 lead.
Just before halftime a Koryo forward 'waltzed' through the Gaijin forwards and scored an easy try. Pitful defense really. And a bad time for the Gaijin to let them through. Koryo would go into the break down only 7 v 5.
It had been a tough half. The Gaijin had battled gainly and had the territorial advantage, as they should have had with that strong wind behind them. Unfortunately they had failed to use it and it was now Koryo's turn to have that advantage and they were only down two points.
The Gaijin actually improved in the second half despite the wind. The forward batttle was 'red-hot' as players from both teams smashed into each other and the rucks were fiercely contested. A bit of 'argy-bargy' and some 'handbags at dawn' required the referee to call upon both captains to settle their teams down, on three or four occasions.
Arthur Levula scored next when he finished off a nice break from Harry Bucknell to run 20 metres to score under the posts. He missed the conversion from right in front with the ball going under the bar which would prove to be a very costly mistake.
Koryo completed the scoring when they took a quick tap from a penalty about 20 metres out. The Koryo back, realising that the Gaijin backs on the blind were asleep, simply tapped the ball and charged at the line. While the 'unsighted' referee said that he made it over the line, those on the sideline close to the play, feel he didn't quite make it over the line as the defense managed to stop him just beforehand. It wa seither no try or a double-movement. The referee is the sole arbiter of the game and his decision was to break the Gaijin hearts. The conversion locked it up at 12 v 12, which was to be the final result.
It was a tough game and exciting to watch as both teams put their bodies on the line with no thoughts of self-preservation. The Gaijin had played their best game of the year and will have to continue to do so if they want to take the Championship as I can't see anyone else in the Shuto League beating Koryo RFC.
The Gaijin forwards worked well together and really "manned up". They gave as good as they got and probably marginally shaded their opponents.
Alex Moule made a good fist of his first game at standoff for the Gaijin but he will need to show more leadership if he wishes to excel at the position The backline didn't seem to gel for the Gaijin today. The centre pairing of Dan Benson and Sovita Tui did not work well toghether with quite a few misreads in defense gifting their opponents easy metres and forcing their team mates to constantly cover. Having said that though, Benson was one of the standouts in defense with his nice, low tackling style.
The failure to kick in the first half was even harder to understand when the Gaijin decided to kick more in the second half and three kicks actually went backwards behind the kicker due to the strong wind.
Onwards and upwards.
SCORE: TGRFC 12 (Apisai Bati 1, Arthur Levula 1 tries, A. Levula 0/1, H. Bucknell 1/1 conversions) Koryo 12 (2 tries, 1/2 conversions)
Man of the Match: John Simpson
Goat(s) of the Match: Arthur Levula & Dan Benson (Arthur for his missed kick from in front and Dan fro a kick that went behind him)
1. Tomo Setoguchi (Japan)
2. LIam Ramshaw (England)
3. Tsunaki 'Don' Tanaka (Japan)
4. John Simpson (USA)
5. Touch Roy (Australia)
6. Apisai Bati (C) (Fiji)
7. Arthur Levula (Fiji)
8. Takashi Tanikawa (Japan)
9. Eamonn Murphy (vc) (Ireland)
10. Alex Moule (England)
11. Jaimeson Musich (USA)
12. Sovita Tui (Fiji)
13. Dan Benson (USA)
14. Nathan Corrie (Fiji)
15. Toshinori Minamidate (Japan)
16. John Tora (Fiji), 17. Peter Sclare (Scotland), 18. Tommy Nasuno (Japan), 19. Kenta Karino (Japan), 20. Harry Bucknell (England), 21. Takuya Ichizono (Japan)
Unused Reserves: Natsu Kunitomo (Japan), Takeo Kondo (Japan), Dan Barnett (England), Sota Kaneko (Japan)