Dateline: Sunday 24th, January, 2016
The Tokyo Gaijin RFC started their 2016 season with a 'friendly' match against the Kawagoe Fighters in Kawagoe, in what has become an annual event. It was a cold day, with cold wind, but the guys were ready to blow away the cobwebs and rust developed over the festive season in their first match for two months. The team met at Kawagoe station (with some delay as a person fell onto the tracks). Once the team was ready, they took a to the stadium where the match was to be played.
Last year Tokyo Gaijin RFC defeated Kawagoe Fighters but it was a close, tough match so from the warm-up the team were focused on playing tough and fast.
The game started well for the Gaijin who dominated possession and linked together some big plays. After five minutes the first try came from the hand of Sota Kaneko. Guest player Kelepi Burelevu, on a three month holiday visa from Fiji, made a 30 metre bust and then passed to Futoshi Karina. As he neared the tryline he was kicked from behind in an illegal tackle. Kaneko quickly tapped the ball from the penalty and raced over to score. Masaki Kakishita failed with the conversion.
The Gaijin kept control of the game and the scrums. There was just one scrum where the Gaijin got a big shunt against them just as Jeremy Burns, having his first crack at No.8, picked up the ball, forcing him to knock it on. It was all back to normal after that though as the Gaijin scrum pushed back thee fighters. At the 15 minute mark, from a line-out just inside the Fighters' 22 metre area, the Gaijin rolled a maul all the way to the tryline after a great shove from the forwards. Kakishita again missd the conversion but the Gaijin still had a handy 10 v 0 lead.
The Fighters thus far had not really troubled the Gaijin and the Gaijin seemed comfortable with how the game was progressing. The Fighters were tackling very well but the Gaijin backs were really fast and they broke the defensive line several times.
At the 25th minute mark a well-coordinated play was finished by Futoshi Karino with a try scored under the posts. This time Karino took the kick and was successful in converting his own try making the score 17 v 0 to the Gaijin.
Getting close to the end of the first half, the Gaijin were on attack 5 metres from the Fighhters' line. It seemed that a try was coming soon but haste and individual attempts (read: greedy) were the teams' downfall. After three individual 'pick and go's Kepi went at the line too high and with the Kawagoe boys being good tacklers as mentioned before, they kept him locked up high and managed to steal the ball. The ball was promptly passed out through the backs surprising the Gaijin backline who were only ready for attack. The Fighters scored at the other end after a good individual run by one of their backs. Score 17 v to the Gaijin.
The Fighters should have scored again just before halftime as the TGRFC had a lapse in concentration and their defense went to sleep. From the kickoff the Fighters regained the ball and quickly fed their backs. One of their speedy guys was on his way to the tryline but decided to pass rather than risk being caught by the cover defense. His team mate dropped the ball and the Gaijin were lucky to hold onto their 10 point lead.
At halftime some replacements were made. Kosuke Yamamoto came on for Natsu Kunitomo in the front row, Takashi Tanikawa came in at #8 for John Simpson (moving #8 Jeremy Bates to flanker an dPaul Bertier from #7 to lock) and Apisai Bati Junior came on for Yoshihiro Sato.
The second half continued where the first half left off with the Gaijin a little stunned. The Kawagoe Fighters sensed this and upped their game, playing really fast and strong. Their tackle level never decreased getting the Gaijin in trouble on numerous occasions. Seven minutes into the second half the Fighters scored but failed to convert edging them closer to the lead at 17 v 12.
To add freshness to the side Kenta Karina came on for his younger brother Futoshi at wing but nothing changed for the Gaijin and the Fighters continued to dominate the game. 12 minutes into the half an outside run was followed by a quick penalty tap and the Kawagoe Fighters were over for another try and the successful conversion put them in the lead at 17 v 19.
The game continued under the Fighters' control and half way through the second half the Gaijin made more changes with Taichi Nakajima, Marian Marx and Gorka Gerediaga replacing Joeseph Vanualailai, Dan Barnett and Jeremy Bates.
The Gaijin finally started to 'wake up' and only being two points behind they had a chance to regain the lead but the Kawagoe Fighters were fighting strongly to protect that lead. Akira Yamagen, who had just recently joined the battle, had to sacrifice himself stopping a try attempt with a high tackle and earning a yellow card in the process.
The Gaijin defense did improve but not enough to stop the Kawagoe Fighters from scoring again with 10 minutes to go after a lack of defensive co-ordination and a strong Fighters attack gave them another try and conversion. They now led 17 v 26.
At this stage Marian Marx, who has never played a full game of rugby in his life, was replaced by John Simpson who had been replaced himself at halftime.
The Gaijin continued pushing hard and close to the end of the game Apisai Bati Junior scored a try out wide.. The conversion was missed leaving the score at 26 v 22 to the Kawagoe Fighters.
It was a close score like last year but this time the Gaijin lost the match. After having a handy 17 v 0 lead the Gaijin seemed to go to sleep and loss concentration. It was really good game and score considering the Gaijin had had just one training run since the end of November.
Man of the Match: Kelepi Burelevu
Goat of the Match: Yamagen
Score : Kawagoe Fighters 26 (4 tries, 3/4 conversions) TGRFC 22 (Sota Kaneko 1, Forward ?? 1, Futoshi Karino 1, Apisai Bati Junior 1 tries, M. Kakishita 0/2, F. Karino 1/1, ???? 0/1 conversions)
1. Natsuhiko Kunitomo (Japan)
2. Tomohiro Setoguchi (Japan)
3. Joseph Vanualialia (Fiji)
4. John Simpson (USA)
5. Daniel Barnett (England)
6. Apisa Bati (C) (Fiji)
7. Paul Bertier (France)
8. Jeremy Burns (USA)
9. Wataru Sato (Japan)
10. Sota Kaneko (Japan)
11. Yoshihiro Sato (Japan)
12. Kelepi Burelevu (Fiji)
13. Masaki Kakishita (Japan)
14. Futoshi Karino (Japan)
15. Toshinori Minamidate (vc) (Japan)
Reeserves: 16. Gorka Gerediaga (Basque), 17. Kosuke Yamamoto (Japan), 18. Marian Marx (Germany), 19. Taichi Nakajima (Japan), 20. Takashi Tanikawa (Japan), 21. Kenta Karino (japan), 22. Apisai Bati Junior. (Japan), 23. Akira Yamagen (Japan).