April 23rd – First round of Tokyo Cup - Wakasugi 24 TGRFC 10
The Tokyo Gaijin Rugby Football Club (TGRFC) gathered together at Kizoochi Field for their first round game of the Second Division of the Tokyo Cup. For the uninitiated, the Tokyo Cup is a 4 Division League, which is not even played in Tokyo, but further north in Saitama Prefecture. The competition is not cheap to enter and has always been a knockout competition in the past (and still is in the lower divisions) so if you lost the first game you rarely got value for your yen.This year the Second Division is divided into three 4-team pools with the winner of each pool going to the semi-finals along with the best second place finisher. Bonus points are given for scoring more than 4 tries and by being beaten by 7 points or less, as in many international tournaments. As always, the competition has a lot of rules which have to be adhered to, and often baffle the foreigners on the team.
The TGRFC`s opposition on this day was Wakasugi Club (Young Cedar Tree??), which had been relegated from the First Division last year, so the boys knew they were in for a torrid contest. Despite losing attacking catalyst Ian “Shadow” Roy to injury enforced retirement since the Manila Tens and also missing game-breaking forwards Rob Reinebach and Shaunne Hughes the Gaijin were quietly confident of a first-up win.
In a fairly even first half Wakasugi was the only team to trouble the scorer with a try down the left flank at about the 15th minute mark, not long after So Nagashima had spilt a kick. They spent long periods camped in the Gaijin half mostly due to the fact that after every well-constructed Gaijin play there would inevitably be a silly handling mistake.
Takashi Mutou, standing in for “Shadow” Roy at standoff, was trying his best to get things started but poor completion rates undid all the good work. He put inside centre Jo Iwasaki through a big hole which netted 30 metres before being stopped in his tracks by the fullback. He also connected with Heats Devlin who made some probing runs down the left flank but then a turnover would come and the ground gained would soon be lost.
So Nagashima, on the other wing, did well in defense in the first half. At one stage he had 2 men running at him with no help in sight but managed to shepherd the ball-runner toward the sideline and then dumped him out with a great tackle, making up for the dropped kick earlier. The usually solid Jonathon Dean at Fullback had a first half that he would rather forget with a dropped bomb followed soon after by a knock-on while trying to gather a bouncing ball which put a dent in his confidence for the rest of the half (match?).
The Gaijin forwards had actually dominated their opponents in the first half, especially in the set pieces, and having an advantage in size, the team was still confident of redeeming themselves as they came out of the half-time huddle. The Wakasugi backs though, led by their clever standoff, had a clear points decision over their opponents who missed too many first up tackles.
Wakasugi started the second half confidently with their standoff continuing to dominate play and aided with some good running lines from his fellow backs. At about the 10 minute mark of the second half the Wakasugi standoff cut inside from a scrum at about the halfway line. The Gaijin loose forwards were unsighted and their standoff, Mutou, had drifted way too early leaving a gaping hole. The standoff ran all the way down field to score under the sticks, leaving the score at 12v0 after the conversion to Wakasugi club.
The TGRFC realized that if they were going to make a game of it, it was now or never. Romeo “Heats” Devlin, in his last game for the club, had obviously decided that he was not going out a loser and started to step up from out on the wing and take all penalty taps. He constantly charged at the Wakasugi forwards and with his power and leg speed really bent the defensive line. This seemed to spur his team-mates on.
The Gaijin forwards, led by the loose trio of Dave Kelver, Sean O`Donoghue and Murray Clarke, were getting through a power of work around the edges of the ruck and Takayuki Kitajima was very effective up the middle with his Kamikaze charges. They were beginning to wear down their opposition and with “Heats” continuing to push forward at every opportunity the Gaijin seemed to be getting on top.
The Gaijin were next to score. After a series of good phase play by the TGRFC forwards that had sucked in the Wakasugi defense, the ball was spun wide and Takashi Mutou, with a man outside him in a 2 on 1 situation dummied and crossed the line. Unfortunately, he missed his own conversion to leave the score at 12v5, with the Gaijin back in the game.
Not long after, the Gaijin were in again. Following a few phases of rolling mauls and pick ’n ’drives the Gaijin were retaining possession well and got a string of penalties from Wakasugi club for “hands in the ruck” as they struggled to get possession. With the forwards pulling the defense into the center, the ball was again swung wide and Sean O`Donoghue, sea-gulling out in the backs, was on hand to touch down on the left side. Mutou pushed the conversion slightly to the left leaving the score 12v10. The Gaijin and their fans could smell victory.
For the next 5 minutes the Gaijin pounded the Wakasugi line. Wakasugi scrambled well and from our viewpoint on the sidelines, seemed to be using their hands a lot in the rucks to slow down the Gaijin ball, which all went unnoticed by the referee. The referee did give a few penalties for offside though but it was a little bit disconcerting on the sideline to see wing Takeshi Takada (70kgs wringing wet) tapping and running at their forwards when it should have been one of the bigger TGRFC forwards. From one of these particular taps the ball was mauled over the line but held up and then inexplicably, Wakasugi came away with the ball and thumped it into touch.
This lost opportunity, and a wheeled scrum seemed to take the wind out of the TGRFC sails. The scrum had already been well and truly won with the ball at the feet of the No.8 but for some incomprehensible reason the ball was not retrieved by the half-back and Wakasugi were allowed to screw the scrum and we saw a perfect opportunity to get back in their 22 wasted.
Wakasugi resorted to kicks to get the hell out of their quarter and proceeded to put more pressure on fullback Dean who lacked support and was often caught and forced to turn over the ball. On one of these turnovers and a few average phases of play, the ball went wide to the wing and their winger slipped through some very ordinary tackles to score. A failed conversion left the score at 17v10 and the Gaijin needing to score twice to win the game in the last ten minutes.
Unfortunately the tiring forwards, who had been solid all game, missed some tackles around the edges of the ruck …..the backs missed as well….and Wakasugi were in again soon after with a runaway try. The conversion led to a final scoreline of 24v10 to Wakasugi Club.
This score line flattered Wakasugi a bit with the two tries in the last ten minutes coming against the run of play but they had made the most of their chances and the final two tries earned them a bonus point and may prove costly to the Gaijin in the run to the semi-finals as they missed the chance to earn their own bonus point by finishing within 7 points of their opposition.
It was felt after the game that the back-line had failed to generate enough momentum and their defense had let the team down. The back three also need to work on their support and kicking game. Also, the forwards need to work on their defense near the fringes of the breakdown. A few times in the first half a few forwards were also guilty of going a bit sideways across the field away from their support and got a bit isolated. The team will have to do some soul-searching on their individual defense ahead of Sunday weeks` clash against the Voyagers (beaten 33v8 by the Donkeys).
On the positive side, the scrums were strong and Murray Clarke and Jesse Takahashi dominated the line-outs. Newcomers Rob Poulton at hooker and Paulo ‘Arnaud’ de Berriozabal at flank showed some promising signs of better things to come for the Gaijin. Heats Devlin, who is heading off to do some modeling in Italy, was a standout in his last game for the club and thoroughly deserved his Man of the Match Award.
Final Score: Wakasugi 24 v TGRFC 10 (Mutou 1, O`Donoghue 1 try, Mutou 0/2 goals)
Man of the Match: Heats Devlin
Goat of the Match: Jonathon Dean
1. Mark Pearson (USA)
2. Rob Poulton (England)
3. Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)
4. Jesse Cutler (USA)
5. Chris Lucas (Australia)
6. Dave Kelver (USA)
7. Murray Clarke (NZ)
8. Sean O`Donoghue (Ireland)
9. Alistair Nimmo (England)
10. Takashi Mutou (Japan)
11. So Nagashima (Japan)
12. Jo Iwasaki (Japan)
13. Yoichi Ohira (Japan)
14. Heats Devlin (Australia)
15. Jonathon Dean (Canada)
16. Paulo ‘Arnaud’ de Berriozabal (Basque)
17. Takeshi Takada (Japan)
18. Dave Orwig (USA)
19. Yasuyuki Tokumitsu (Japan)