Small leagues of highly competitive teams are often decided when the best two meet. The Gentle Giants RFC prepared well for the '08 Shuto League competition. We observed them attracting large squads to training and playing their previous encounters with discipline and determination. But...On Sunday the 8th of November, the Gentle Giants RFC faced a full and fearsome Tokyo Gaijin regiment.
As if an almost full complement of troops was not enough, talented new faces also bolstered the lines, with Hiroyuki Ikeuchi and Amir Yassari making debuts (well done Amir for making it to the correct ground this time...). Occasional visitor Alexis Ottenwaelter was also in attendance, fortunately once again in Tokyo on business. Making a first outing since Sugadaira was Alastair 'face first' Nimmo, whose cheek, fractured on tour, was judged adequately repaired from reconstructive surgery.The battlefield was the premium Inagi stadium, best ground on the Shuto circuit and the pitch on which the representative 'New Zealand Ambassador's Cup' match is played in mid December. The ground was wide, flat, hard, and well protected from the wind. Expectations were for an exciting and watchable encounter. The men who made it happen for us were Jesse Cutler at the organisational end and Blake Walker as linesman.
The Tokyo Gaijin RFC (TGRFC) turned up at Akigase Koen in Omiya knowing that victory would ensure that they had won the Shuto League competition for the 2nd year running. A loss would mean that the Gentle Giants, who the Gaijin had beaten the 24 v 7 the week before, would win the competition on points for and against. Despite winning the Shuto League last year the Gaijin had lost the last game, which didn’t bring the desired closure to the season. So there was a lot to play for. Their opposition, Baku & Clover (B&C), had beaten a couple of ‘tough’ teams and were out to rain on their parade.
Both sides showed that they meant business in the early exchanges with good tackling and excellent rucking forcing some early turnovers. After the early ‘sorting each other out’ period it was the Gaijin who were first to post some points on the scoreboard. They were awarded a penalty just inside the B&C 22 metre line. In a piece of quick thinking, Apisai Bati quickly tapped the ball and went down the blind. This obviously surprised B&C as Bati did a quick ‘in and out’ step and bounced off a few feeble tackles to dot the ball down right next to the corner flag to give the Gaijin a promising start. Matt Downer missed the conversion from out wide to leave the score at 5 v 0.Soon after, from a penalty for offside, Matt Downer posted a penalty goal to enhance the margin to 8 v 0 in favour of the Gaijin. His booming kicks in general play were also relieving the Gaijin from some sustained pressure by the B&C club. Soon after Downer was again in the thick of the action as he cut through the B&C back line on the edge of the ruck and raced up field. As he came to the cover defense he passed to Joffa Harris who was backing up on the inside. Harris beat the fullback but soon realized that he didn’t have the pace to get away from him or the covering winger. His left-side winger was nowhere to be seen so Harris turned the ball back inside to the flying Yoichi Ohira. Unfortunately a B&C cover defender got his hand in the road to knock the ball on. The referee didn’t see it that way and awarded a scrum to B&C for a Gaijin knock on. Another chance gone begging!