Dateline: September 4th, 2016
The Tokyo Gaijin RFC have started their Autumn campaign with a tight win against Saitama Prefecture champions Kumagaya RFC. The match was organized as a 'friendly' to get rid of the rust from the summer break as the team leads into the Shuto League next week and as a way to get some game time for some newcomers to the team. Overall, there were 6 new players who suited up on the day - Alexander Auldy, Stanley Henry and Doug Picken from New Zealand, Rap Pagai from Samoa, Joshua Bateson from England and local Hiroshi Fukazawa.
On a boiling hot day with high humidity the Tokyo Gaijin RFC trekked out to Kumagaya (a twin town of Invercargill, New Zealand) hoping to get their autumn season off to a bright start against tough opposition and weather not conducive to rugby. Kumagaya Athletic Stadium will host some of the games in the 2019 Rugby World Cup but the Gaijin were relegated to Ground C, but it was still one of the best grounds they have ever played on and covered with a lush layer of thick green grasss.
The Gaijin had their typical slow start when the kickoff was allowed to bounce and Kumagaya RFC spent the next six minutes camped inside the Gaijin half of the field until the pressure told and the Kumagay No.7 crossed near the posts. The successful conversion made the score 7 v 0 to the Kumaagay RFC and gave the Gaijin an early wakeup call.
The Kumagaya standoff was controlling the game well and put in some clever chip kicks and wide kicks to his wingers but the Gaijin finally managed to make it into their opponents half in the 8th minute of the game.
In the 11th minute the Gaijin were finally on the scoreboard after a try from captain Apisai Bati. A penalty led to a lineout on the Kumagaya 22 metre line. Gaijin standoff Alexander Auldy was put under pressure from the lineout but responded by cutting back in to avoid the onrushing loose frowards and then finding a gap through the rest of the pack. He sprinted upfield but was caught just short of the tryline. The ball was quickly recycled twice and then ended with Bati diving over from close range. Sota Kaneko missed the relaatively easy conversion leaving the score at 7 v 5 to Kumagaya RFC.
In the 18th minute the Kumagay club extended their lead to 12 v 5 when their right winger raced over after some very average tackling from the Gaijin team.
In the 29th minute things were made even tougher for the Gaijin when new boy Rap Pagai was given a yellow card for a high tackle and sent to the 'naught boy's chair'. In his defense his opposite number was running low and Pagai just seemed to bear hug him.
Kumagaya RFC scored next to the posts on the very next play and the successful conversion put them out to a 19 v 5 lead.
In the 33rd minute the Gaijin kicked a penalty toward touch and had a line out about 15 metres from their oppositions' line. Standoff Alexander Auldy made a strong run from the line out win. He managed to stay on his feet in the tackle and his forwards drove in behind to push him over the line. Takuya Ichizono converted to put the Gaijin within a converted try at 19 v 12 behind. (Note: Alex claimed the try but Apisai Bati also claimed it saying that Alex it behind. I'll give the fit of the doubt to Alex.)
With a minute to go before halftime Rap Pagai was back on the field bringing the Gaijin back to 15 men but it was all the forwards work on the next try. From a scrum 10 metres out from the Kumagaya line the Gaijin forwards powered ahead and No.8 Takashi Tanikawa finished off their good work by diving over the line. The conversion by Takuya Ichizono was missed leaving the Gaijin behind by only two points at halftime. Score: 19 v 17 to Kumagaya RFC.
The message at halftime was to keep play close to the ruck as the chunky Kumagaya forwards (especially their two props) seemed to be tiring. To be fair, both teams players were tiring in the humidity and heat but perhaps Kumagaya more so. Defense also had to move up quicker and be in the faces of their attackers, especially the Kumagaya No.10 who was controlling things well for his backline.
The Gaijin started the half perfectly when Kenta Karino took the kickoff and found a bit of space. He unloaded onto Takuya Ichizono who skirted the defense and kicked ahead. Winger Futoshi Karino won the race to the ball to put the Gaijin in front for the first time in the game. Ichizono failed with the conversion. Score: 22 v 19 to the Gaijin.
In the 45th minute Kumagaya RFC stole the lead back when their new No.9 (and I suspect first string No. 9; apparently an ex-company player) ran through two flat-footed Gaijin front rowers to score. They failed with the conversion to make it a close game at 24 v 22 to Kumagaya RFC.
In the 57th minute Gaijin captain Apisai Bati regained the lead for his team with his specialty - 'banana' from a lineout 25 metres out. Bati made it look easy as he bamboozled the defense after getting a ball at the front of the lineout. New boy Joshua Bateson stepped up to the conversion from out wide but failed leaving the gaijin holding a slender lead of 27 v 24.
In the 63rd minute the Gaijin extended their lead when Takuya Ichizono made a good run and passed onto Toshinori Minamidate. He made further ground then kicked ahead and it was pacy winger Futoshi Karina who popped up again to land on the ball first. He then converted his own to put the Gaijin out to a 34 v 24 lead.
Kumagaya came back with some powerful forward charges but it was good tryline defense from the Gaijin who resisted two 5 metre penalties and utilised some great maul defense on their line to work their way out of a sticky situation. There were pats on the back all round after such superb defense. The Gaijin seemed to take confidence from this and despite a string of penalties against them, some doubtful, they appeared to believe that today victory would be theirs.
In the 79 minute, consitent hitups from consistent penalties finally lead to the Gaijin tryline being breached one last time as the Kumagaya forwards managed to barge over, but it was too late to seal victory. The successful conversion made the final score 34 v 31 to the TGRFC.
It was a hard-fought victory and a great start to the Autumn season. One would struggle to name another Shuto Legaue team that could beat Kumagaya RFC, which augurs well for the Gaijin in the upcoming Shuto League season starting next weekend. The Gaijin forward pack was immense, constantly putting their opposition under a lot of pressure at scrum time. Defense at the ruck was rugged and vigorous from both teams with neither giving any quarter. The defense The Gaijin backline struggled at times in defense but with a number of new players in the backline that was to be expected, and with a little more time together any deficiencies should be ironed out.
All the new boys showed heaps of promise with perhaps Alexander Auldy being the pick of the bunch. He was dominant at both standoff and then inside centre and made numerous strong runs into the teeth of the opposition. Fellow Kiwi, Stanley Henry, also made quite a few dominant tackles when he took the field in the second half.
In a tough decision, Takuya Ichizono was awarded Man of the Match. The little man had a big impact making a few try-saving tackles and had a hand in two of the Gaijin tries and generally excelled in everything he did.
SCORE: TGRFC 34 (Apisai Bati 2, Futoshi Karino 2, Alexander Auldy 1, Takashi Tanikawa 1 tries; S. Kaneko 0/1, T. Ichizono 1/3, J, Bateson 0/1, F. Karino 1/1 conversions) Kumagaya RFC 31 (5 tries, 3/5 conversions)
Man of the Match: Takuya Ichizono
Goat of the Match: Rap Pagai (Yellow Card)
1. Gorka Gerediaga (Basque)
2. Tomohiro Setoguchi (Japan)
3. Tsunaki 'Don' Tanaka (Japan)
4. John Simpson (USA)
5. Yuta Oba (Japan)
6. Nikola Pavesic (Croatia)
7. Apisai Bati (C) (Fiji)
8. Takashi Tanikawa (Japan)
9. Sota Kaneko (Japan)
10. Alexander Auldy (New Zealand) *
11. Takuya Ichizono (Japan)
12. Ryosuke Suehisa (Japan)
13. Rap Pagai (Samoa) *
14. Junpei Shirakawa (Japan)
15. Toshihiro Minamidate (Japan)
Reserves: (16) Hiroshi Fukazawa (Japan) *, (17) Natushiko Kunitomo (Japan), (18) Barry Lobendahn (Fiji), (19) Stanley Henry (New Zealand) *, (20) Kenta Karino (Japan), (21) Doug Picken (New Zealand) *, (22) Futoshi Karino (Japan), (23) Joshua Bateson (England) *, (24) Akira Yamagen (Japan)
* Denotes first game for the Tokyo Gaijin RFC