Salad Daze - Gaijin Retain Sugadaira Title 
championsSugadaira. If they say rugby is the game they play in heaven, I'd say Sugadaira is as close to heaven for any rugby player I've ever seen. Green all around, fresh air, a hot sun, cool rains and lots and lots and lots of rugby fields throughout the town. Did I mention the quality of those rugby pitches? Best in Japan outside of the international stadiums! Immaculate is a word that springs to mind. A joy to play on. So we did.
Early on Saturday morning, to Sugadaira it was for the third year running for the Tokyo Gaijin. A 4-hour car ride up into the Nagano mountains where the TGRFC were to defend their title of Grand Champions in the annual 10 a-side tournament.
 
With everyone arrived safely in the own cars and several rental wagons, there was a little bit of time for checking out the plethora of rugby stores in town (Canterbury, Suzuki, Cotton Traders etc etc) --- considrering all men hate shopping these were the type of shops that make any ruggerman content.
 
The crew consisted of the skipper Alistair (who also did the accomodation arrangements), new man Mike, Jono (injured and missing Shaunne), Steve, Richard, Dana, Jo (injured) and Shino, Sou and the Mrs, Niall (injured) and the Mrs, Mr. Peason and the Mrs, Big Rob and the Mrs (and the dog), Mauro and the Mrs (heavily pregnant), Joffa and the Mrs, and Me with the Mrs and kids in tow. Yukio and Shaunne had to pull out at the last minute, Yukio as his family were all down with a 'flu and Shaunne for dubious reasons best kept secret.
 
This gave us plenty of supporters and a team with mobility and size. Bring it on!
 
Before I even start, a quick THANK YOU to the above supporters and to Shino who as always keeps the lads watered and in game-shape with her trusty medical kit. Good job.
 
Predicatably the 10's would see the the Gaijin use their size in the set peices and utilizing Rob Reinbach and Mauro Sauco as ball carriers with devastating effect. They were able to either smash straight through would-be tacklers and gain major yardage or were able to draw in a ridiculous numbers of defenders to allow their team mates some fun with the ball in hand. It must be said their were some good tackles going in by the local teams all day --- perfect tecnique around the legs --- but it was pretty hard for them to defend against a couple of raging fatties like Mauro and Rob who can run into those tackles as fast as most backs. Awesome stuff!
 
GAME ONE: 10's
 
The first game started with the Gaijin going up by 2 tries at the half (one to Big Rob and one to Alistair Nimmo who showed good pace). Niall Conlon came close. The second half started with the same effect with the Gaijin crashing up and brekaing the lines, but small errors cost possession. We were well on top of the small but spritely opposition until the final 5 minutes when the heat and pace took it's toll. The Gaijin let in 3 quick tries and the game had turned. A major sucking up of energy by the big fellas kept us in the hunt and it was Mauro who scored a double to take the Gaijin home. Mauro has perfected his body position on attack, getting a lower centre of gravity and making him virtually unstoppable, a la Mr. Rheinbach, who also dominated. The rest of us did well supporting, but it must be said that the big guns certainly laid the platform. Steve Bull and Mauro both showed great commitment to hunt down tear away runners and stop them before they scored on us. Steve then proceeded to sprain an ankle and retreat to the sideline. Mark Pearson had some solid runs as did our halfback pairing of Alistair and Richard Beard (who we haven't seen in a long while). (For an old fella Richard showed he still has plenty of gas and his side step remains his most potent weapon. We will miss him.) Mr. Pearson also showed he still has the legs at the ripe old age of 52. Good on ya mate! We'll miss you too.
 
GAME TWO: 10's
 
The second match came immediately after the first. So it was a Gaijin team doing some serious huffing and puffing as they steadied themselves for the next opponent. This game started badly. The opposition came at us with a rush defence putting our ball carriers under serious pressure. Some silly mistakes saw the Japanese team take a two try lead early on. Jo Iwasaki had come in to this game despite his cracked ribs and put in a solid effort before being sidelined in what looked like a lot of pain. Murray Clarke also retired after the first 5 minutes with a knock to the knee. The lads that stayed on put in a massive effort, tackling themselves silly and again feeding the brute force of Rob and Mauro who thundered through the defence, allowing team mates to run on to clean ball at speed. Niall Conlon (who ran around on bloodied knees all day) and Sou Nagashima put in a lot of work and looked decidedly knackered toward the end, as did most of the team. New man Mike also had a good run and put in some good work --- especially on defence. Jono even had a few minutes of game time before his injuries kept him off. Richard Beard also received a vicious cut to his thigh that bled profusely and looked more like the result of a knife fight than a tackle. Anyway, once again it was the Big Man, Rob Rheinbach who delivered the Gaijin home in the winner's seat. I recall three tries to Rob though however many it was, his impact was vital. The Gaijin won again. The defence of the crown looked good.
 
However we were carrying a lot of injuries at this stage: Stev, Jo and Jonathan were out. Richard, Murray and Niall all carried injuries. And so the title defence took place with a couple of ring-in's: Yajima-san and Sakuma-san. Both players we had been watching from the side lines and players we had identified as far superior to their team mates (in Roku-Go and some other Tokyo club). Advantage Gaijin!
 
THE FINAL: 10's
 
The Gaijin again started badly. With several non-backs playing in the backs but not really looking like backs (namely Murray Clarke and Dana), the opposition were able to exploit some Gaijin weaknesses. In fact almost everytime they attacked they found an overlap. This overlap was quickly closed down by Sakuma-san (who was invaluable on the right wing), meaning that the attackers were pushed back into oncoming defenders. Only a few times did they get a clean break but those few times ended in points scored. The Gaijin needed something special and it came from (guess who?): Big Rob Rheinbach. Rob once again showed why he is so valuable to the club as he almost singlehandedly pulled the Gaijin through with a couple of barnstorming runs up the left flank and through the middle that 1) got the Gaijin on the front foot and 2) wore down a tiring opposition and 3) resulted in the territory and tries we needed to take the lead. Courageaous running from fly-half RIchard Beard and quick recycling of the ball by Alistair Nimmo meant that the Gaijin could go forward to back up the runs from the big fella's. Airman Dana also managed a few good runs with ball in hand as did new man Mike. Murray Clarke was also put into open space but couldn't (yes, Richard I heard you) get the pass away as the defence closed in. Outstanding defence by Sakuma-san late in the second half was also a key to the win. Sakuma and Yajima both scored for us in the dying stages. Victory was ours and we were later that evening crowned Grand Champions or Poohbah's or something at an event that noone really wanted to be at.
 
POST-MATCH
 
The victory banquet was a feast that I will never forget. Same as every year, frothy beer in paper cups, bags of crisps, some candy and the main course consisting of large plateloads of lettuce. Yes, lettuce, lots of it. Get your vitamin C here lads. That is the one thing Sugadaira is famous for (other than rugby): lettuce. The prize draw also saw each and every person in the room, building and neighbourhood win a box of lettuce. As Champions we also won boxes of lettuce. So if anyone out there really wants some lettuce... either call Mauro (who has all ours), or get your ass to Sugadaira. Enough bloody lettuce!!!!
 
On to the showers, hot tub, dinner and beers back at the New Davos. A festive dinner saw some penalties and some awards, as well as an announcement of a coming baby for our MVP of the Day: Big Rob.
 
Feeling light and happy with the success of the day we drank ourselves merry in anticipation of another event: the Trinations/Bledisloe Cup match to be played at some guy's bar later that evening. Suffice to say, it won't be this year that Australia finds themselves a front row and it won't be this year that they win a Trinations or a Bledisloe Cup. All Blacks 32-12. Good days. Sake and more beer followed... as the only Kiwi on the trip, for me especially. I think Joffa cried.
 
Sadly there were none of the shenanagins that went on in the 2005 trip. No Blake Walker to pass out, get scribbled on and kiss the roadkill. But we still had fun.
 
SUNDAY
 
On to Sunday. Serious aches and pains, sore bodies and fuzzy heads. Trying to motivate ourselves for a game of 15 a-side was like a game in itself. We all prefered Golf but what was to be was to be. And so it was that we carried our battered bodies down to another field in a light rain to play. Speaking for all, I think we were all bloody pleased to have done so as the game was a lot of fun and was one of the highlights as it always is.
 
The Gaijin had to borrow a few players again, due to a lack of attendance in the first place and also due to the injuries. Big Rob who was already out of the game due to the mass bruising he sustained on the previous day, also had to leave with Dana and the Mrs. as she was not well.