We had only ever played them in Tens and they seemed to be a good outfit. The day started off with us trudging to the wrong field from Yawatajuku Station. Man of the world, Steve Bull, hadn`t thought to ask his contacts for the name of the field. After being shuttled to the field by those with cars (Thanks Noriko & Kitahara) the next problem was to find a few reserves. Due to the Public Holiday weekend, Rob Poulton doing his usual no-show, business commitments among the Japanese members of the squad (Yes, on a public holiday weekend!) and a raft of injuries the Gaijin had only just managed to assemble the bare 15 players. Luckily a few players from the Ichihara Club, who had just finished a game, promised to stand by.Unfortunately, the TGRFC lost the toss and were to play into a strong wind in the first half. The wind seemed to be worth twenty points so if the Gaijin could produce a strong first half and the gale didn`t change directions the match would be there for the taking in the second half. The pitch was surprisingly green….probably because of the fact that it was astro-turf and not because they had the best greenkeeper
The Gaijin started promisingly enough with some good charges up the centre of the field by Niall Conlon after receiving crisp service from Alistair Nimmo and Shaunne Hughes in the halves. Unfortunately some slack defense from the inside backs and a few forwards left a big hole up the centre and Akanegahama were gifted a try near the posts. With the conversion the Gaijin were down 7 v 0 early. This pattern was repeated two more times with some very simple missed tackles. The first was converted
but the second was a little wider out and the Akanegahama kicker failed with that attempt. Score : 19 v 0 to Akanegahama. So there was that 20 point lead that a few were willing to give up due to the gale we were playing into….but there were still 15 minutes left in the half.
The Gaijin had punctuated the Akanegahama tries with some promising forays down the left flank with Tucker McEwen, Jason McAffee (Jmac) and Jonathon Dean heavily involved. There was some smooth passing from Nimmo to Hughes with the latter setting up raids for his outside backs which resulted in some very exciting play with a few 40 metre raids but great cover from the Akanegahama fullback and outside backs snuffed out tries.
The Gaijin finally put it all together and got on the board with a try from McEwen. There had been some great lead-up work by the forwards. The backing-up was some of the best that this observer had seen all year. Some excellent ripping and rolling, and passing while being tackled led to some excellent continuity from a spectator`s point of view. Dave Kelver, So Nagashima and Hiroaki Kitahara were heavily involved and even members of the tight five got involved. The movement that led to the try was about 40 metres and McEwen finished it off with a beautiful low dive between two defenders. It would be close to one of the tries of the year with so many hands involved and exciting continuous play. Hughes converted to make it 19 v 7 and the Gaijin were well and truly back in it.
The gaijin continued in the same vain straight from the kickoff and once again there were many hands involved and some great support play. McEwen and Jmac made some great runs and received great support from the loose forwards. Following a brilliant passage of play Jonathon Dean was eventually caught just short of the line by the Akanegahama fullback but managed to offload to big Canadian prop Dave Huffman who just had to flop over after Akanegahama simply ran out of defenders. Hughes failed to convert and the score stayed at 19 v 12 to Akanegahama, who managed to keep the Gaijin team out until halftime.
This score seemed to be a very acceptable halftime score considering the strong wind the Gaijin were playing into. Everyone could sniff a victory and approached the 2nd half with a quiet confidence.
The second half started where the last one left off with some promising attacks but things broke down before the TGRFC could trouble the scoreboard. There was a period of 15 minutes where the Gaijin went into a lull. Despite being camped in the Akanegahama half nothing seemed to go their way and there were some dubious refereeing decisions that went against them. (Who says I`m one-eyed!). Kitahara got over the line but was called back and penalized for apparently going down on one knee in a tackle and then playing on.
McEwen finally got the Gaijin on the board after dominating the half up to now. He flew down the left wing and outran the cover to score in the corner. Hughes kicked the conversion from the sideline to tie the score at 19 v 19.
This seemed to lift Akanegahama while the Gaijin seemingly went to sleep. A series of turnovers at crucial times took the momentum out of the attack and the Gaijin were unable to convert pressure into points. Akanegahama seized the initiative and attacked the Gaijin defensive line and started finding gaps and breaking tackles at will. It didn`t help that Jmac had done his hamstring and thought that there were no reserves on the sideline so he soldiered on until the Manager realized it was obviously hampering him.
Akanegahama scored two tries from within their own half in the final ten minutes and converted one of them to run away with a 31 v 19 win.
For the Gaijin it could be considered one that got away. They had gone to sleep in that crucial period near the end of the game and the defensive lapses cost them dearly. What is worse is that for the majority of the half they had dominated both possession and territory. There were some brilliant phases from the TGRFC in which they had Akanegahama under pressure with aggressive forward play and structured backline attack. The loose forward trio of Kelver, Nagashima and Kitahara were tireless in both attack and defense. Mike Parks, a recent newcomer to the sport, was handed the responsibility of being the main lineout jumper and did a fine job. Jmac, in his first full game for the club showed some glimpses of brilliance until the hamstring problem forced him off the field. McEwen was slightly shaded for Man of the Match by captain Alistair Nimmo who had a great game in defense with some of the biggest tackles of the game (despite the fact that he was one of the smallest guys on the field) and as a link man between the backs and the forwards.
Score: Akanegahama 31 v TGRFC 19 (McEwen 2, Huffman 1 tries, Hughes 2/3 goals)
Man of the Match: Alistair Nimmo
1. Chris Lucas (Australia)
2. Takashi Narita (Japan)
3. Dave Huffman (Canada)
4. Mauro Sauco (Argentina)
5. Mike Parks (England))
6. So Nagashima (Japan)
7. Dave Kelver (USA)
8. Hiroaki Kitahara (Japan)
9. Alistair Nimmo © (England)
10. Shaunne Hughes (Australia)
11. Lawrence Hii (Australia)
12. Niall Conlon (England)
13. Jason McAffee (USA)
14. Jonathon Dean (Canada)
15. Tucker McEwen (USA)