Gaijin 36 vs. Doronco 31

ImageOn Sunday TGRFC, a Tokyo Cup 2nd Division side, took on Doronko (3rd Div.) in a friendly match to fill in the blanks of the encroaching summerschedule. What could have and should have been a sizeable victory to the Gaijin turned into a see saw battle of who could make it hardest for themselves to win the match. But what a ripper of a finish it was!

The opening 10 minutes saw the Gaijin looking solid: forwards crunching itup the middle, making 10-15 yards through the likes of Mauro Sauco, Chris Lucas and Taka Kitajima, supported well by loosies Dave Kelver and Eric Hermand. The forwards were followed by Alistair Nimmo snapping away at half back and launching the backline into action; generally making solid ground through the line breaks of Shaunne Hughes and the offloading of Nial Conlon.The forwards were, generally speaking, up with the play and in support. Only small errors such as losing the ball in the ruck cost the Gaijin possession at this stage.

Doronko on the other hand were making their tackles in the fringes and held their defensive line well. On attack they were getting it to their centreswho managed to make ground and maintain possession for the forwards to recycle. Doing the basics well. But neither side really looked to be controlling or dominating the swing of the game... until that is a big Gaijin scrum at halfway allowed Shaunne Hughes to show some twinkle toed magic and step through his opposing first-five and cut his way to the line for a try. A great run and amazing as noone seemed too interested in tackling the forward cum fly half or was it his blistering pace? Certainly none of the Gaijin were keeping up. Hughes slotted the extra's and the Gaijin were up 7-0 on the 10 minute mark.

The Gaijin took heart and the game suddenly looked to be theirs until a
major lapse of concentration on the defensive line saw a tough pass fly to the Gaijin fullback Jono Dean who knocked on. The ball unluckily bounced forward toward the hands of a charging Doronko who was quickly "taken out" by a frustrated Dean and a penalty try ensued. 7-7 tied game after 13 minutes.

A see-saw game continued with solid tackling by the Gaijin including So
Nagashima, Mark Pearson and again Takayuki Kitajima in the forwards. Solid support play and go forward from Pearson, Hermand and Kelver also. The back line was solid in defense through the allrounder Shaunne Hughes working as a loosie and fly half; also through the work of Conlon and Jo Iwasaki, though it seemed hard for the Gaijin to crack the line and find a good attacking field position.

Doronko relentlessly swung the ball wide, gained yards but let themselves down at the tackle, where the Gaijin forwards were doing a good job. On one such encounter Doronko had a messy ruck with an overlap on the right flank, the halfback worked hard to dig the ball out, swung his pass to the fly half who then sent a high arcing pass out toward his wing and into the outstretched arms of Shaunne Hughes who ran in from the 10 metre mark for his second try of the afternoon. Again showing he has pace to burn as none other than So Nagashima seemed interested to chase after him. 14-7 Gaijin.

The next significant play was a great chase and catch from a Hughes chip by Jo Iwasaki who then fed Conlon who was on hand. Conlon ran hard but was taken into touch just short of the left corner flag. Eric Harmand contested well in the following line out and the Gaijin took back the ball, swinging it wide to the right corner and then back again where Mauro Cauco remained in anticipation from the previous line out. Just as well as he was on hand to finish a move and crash over the line for the third Gaijin try of the day. 19-7 Gaijin.

The momentum seemed to have turned entirely the Gaijin's way as from the following kick-off, Dave Kelver took the catch and proceeded to run across field and through an aching gap that gained the team 40 metres --- he just kept going through flailing arms of Doronko would-be tacklers. The next line out was taken cleanly by Eric Harmand who had accurate throwing from relative newcomer Toru Kanamori, but somewhere in the ensuing rucks the ball turned over. Doronko started to maintain possession and gain momentum of their own. Several great tackles were made in the phase and of particular note from Kitajima (a hard hit in fringes) and from Mauro Sauco (a wide cover tackle from where he was again waiting in ambush from a previous set piece).

Again the see saw continued with play confined to the midfield area from our 22 to theirs. A chip and chase by Hughes, followed by a line out won by Arthur Strang and then an offensive penalty on Mauro Sauco saw the ball turnover once more. The Gaijin (traditionally slow in retreat) gave awy a further 10 metres on a successive penalty and the Doronko centres (12 and 13) ran hard through our broken lines. Shaunne Hughes ran to cover but the numbers were there for Doronko who deserved the converted try. 19-14 it was and remained as the half time score. It was obvious at this stage that the Gaijin were starting to crack and some frustration was seeping into the team's communications.

The second spell started with some good pick and go work by Takayuki
Kitajima who was having a powerful game (as usual). The following ruck though saw the ball turned over again and Doronko, fired up from their late surge in the first half, came on with all cylinders firing.

It was clear that the half time had cemented a strategy that worked earlier on: spread the ball wide to the wingers and let them run! It worked as the Gaijin cover defence melted away and they scored an early second half try to the left wing. He was untouched from the 10 metre mark as the Gaijin defence was non-existent and he scored an unconverted try close to the corner. 19-1 tied game. Frustrations increased.

In the next few phases from the kick off, few efforts by the Gaijin stood out other than some solid defensive positioning by Tomohiro Nakayama who had replaced an injured Jonathan Dean at Full Back. Shaunne Hughes also ran up the middle in a good run. Kitajima (again), So Nagashima and Dave Kelver all played well through this testing stage but their efforts were let down by small errors by the team at the breakdown and the resulting turnovers.

Dave Kelver also was switched on to steal an opposition line out from which Shaunne Hughes again chipped and chased. This was into open space with few chasers and the Doronko again followed their strategy from the ruck that came at halfway. They spun the ball wide and down the left wing where the Gaijin again had no defence. This time the Doronko wing was tackled but he offloaded and they scored a converted try. 19-26 Doronko.

The tide had turned and the Gaijin were not rising. Rather they were
starting to show mental cracks.

Following the restart there was a long passage of play where consecutive rucks, drives and mauls led the Gaijin up to the Doronko 22. Unfortunately for Alistair Nimmo at half back there was little support on hand and he opted (unfortunately) to take on a line of Doronko forwards which unfortunately ended in a turnover and quick ball out to the Doronko backs.
They then made a long run through their midfield, who were having a great game, and the ball went up over half way. Gaijin forwards were slow to get back and an offside at a ruck resulted in a quick tap by the Doronko forwards. Gaijin again too slow. Another tap, another drive. A chip kick was taken in well by So Nagashima but after being swarmed by Doronko attackers the ball was turned over and the Doronko marauders ran over for another try. 19-31.

Could we get our heads back into this game?

The answer came quickly. From the following kick off things went the Gaijin way. On the left side of the field, a line out take by Arthur Strang on the Doronko 22 saw a chance for Shaunne Hughes to go through his obviously weaker opposite number and scyth through on an excellent daigonal run that saw him make the line going through a tackle. 26-31.

With an extremely tired looking forward pack, there were few Gaijin were able to stand out at this stage of the game. Alistair Nimmo was his usual "terrier" self and full of energy. Mark Pearson out in a lot of work in the rucks. Eric Hermand showed his stamina to keep up with play, as did Dave Kelver. Replacements Mikkel Kragh, Mike Parks, Steve Bull, Dave Orwig and David Cocquempot all put in good efforts, full of energy, as did Yasuyuki who has waited a long season to get game time. Some of the replacements were interchanged to give everyone a run, including Steve's mate Alfredo who it seemed had never played rugby before but made a great (read: important) tackle later in the game.

The final 15 minutes was set to be a ripper as the Gaijin clawed their way back. Shaunne Hughes again broke the line through his opposite and the Gaijin rolled on up to half. A poor throw in by the replacement hooker turned the ball over and the Gajijin frustration mounted. A penalty followed and Doronko had a line out on the Gaijin 22.

Quick wits by Takayuki Kitajima to hook the opposition throw back saw the Gaijin regain possession. The backs and forwards all got into the game bringing the ball up over half way, where Mauro Sauco pciked up and charged through in a solid run. Eric Harmand then took the ball at the back of a ruck and ran, breaking the line and storming over the 22 through several tacklers who could not bring him down. A superb try to the Gaijin under the posts --- this game looked to be won. Until that is, Shaunne Hughes chose the worst time to get club-foot as he hooked the conversion away to miss the posts by more than he probably ever has to this day.

31-31 tied game once again. Could the Gaijin find anymore gas in their spent tanks? The jury was out on that one but both teams had considerably upped the ante and were playing with all their remaining energy.

The following 5 minutes saw possession change hands so many times a newcomer would have thought the purpose of rugby is to give away that ball when you get tackled, or to throw difficult passes to your mates, and drop it if you do get it. Knock-on's, fumbles, lost passes, turnovers at the ruck were common to both teams. Both teams clearly exhausted from the running, the heat and fitness level (?).

Another poor Doronko pass lead to a knock on and Gaijin scrum just outside the Doronko 22. The solid Gaijin scrum scrum saw another chance for Hughes to break through his weak opposite and make a charging run 30 metres through traffic. Tackled just short of the line he also had presence of mind to remain standing, turn and drive through the fullback and convert the final 2 metres into a try. Shame about the club foot but it didn't matter: it was now 36-31 to the Gaijin and Hughes had his fourth try of the day.

A grand finish to a game that at time looked like a Tokyo Cup Division 2
encounter and at others looked reminiscient of a University Social Grade Sunday game. Oh well, at least we won it!

My choices for Player of the Day: Shaunne Hughes (followed by Takayuki Kitajima)
Goat of the Day? Hmmm. Hard one that. Maybe Mauro Sauco for always waiting at the other side of the field for the ball to come back. Jono Dean for that knock on. Or, perhaps Shaunne Hughes for the club-foot (though he made up for it with the winning try.