After a very successful day yesterday in the Sugadaira 10`s the Tokyo Gaijin RFC were due to play a game against Joso Club in the regular 15-a-side game. As only 14 players went to Sugadaira we were already scouting a few back-ups. As the players filed in to the breakfast room at the New Davos Hotel it was obvious that we were struggling for a squad and even more back-up players would need to be found.
Dana Post and Rob Reinebach limped in together. Steve Bull (sprained ankle which turned out to be an old fracture), Jonathon Dean (ankle), Mike Parks (broken finger), Jo Iwasaki (ribs), Niall Conlon (knees covered in scabs from previous game), and Richard Beard (looked like someone had stuck a pencil a few centimetres into his leg just above the knee) were also on the walking wounded list.
Luckily Arthur Strang had shown up sometime through the night. Apparently he had snuck into a hotel and spent the night in their onsen. Looking surprisingly fit, if not a little withered (that happens after sleeping in water for a few hours!), he reduced the number of replacement players we had to look for by one. So we had 7 able-bodied players : Captain & half Alistair Nimmo, Prop Mark Pearson, Locks Murray Clarke and Arthur Strang, Mauro Sauco having his first shot at No8 , and So Nagashima on the wing. Richard Beard, in his last game for the club before jetting off to France to write ‘popular’ novels, had decided that he wanted one last shot on the field in Japan (and maybe forever!) and bravely suited up despite that hole in his leg. Centres Niall Conlon (who actually started at hooker) and Jo Iwasaki decided to follow suit, as did winger Mike Parks. Thankfully, the All-France Club came to our assistance to help fill the holes. We borrowed about half their squad.
The first half, started in cool showery conditions, was a very forgettable half for the Gaijin with Joso Club running in tries at will. Their scrum was pushing the TGRFC scrum all over the place and exploiting the weak link out wide by running at the All-France centre, whose name escapes me, and Mike Parks, who is quite new to the oval ball game. Perhaps it was all the beer imbibed last night while watching NZ whip Oz. Perhaps it was because all the All-France players had just played an entire game just before this one. Perhaps the food at the New Davos Hotel had been spiked. Perhaps it was all the injuries. Who knows? Midway through the first half the All- France prop nicknamed ‘Nike’ came on as a replacement. The man is huge – almost as wide as he is tall. He didn`t do much in the way of rucking or mauling but the scrum did not budge after that. With the scrum now settled things started looking better for the Gaijin however they failed to trouble the scorers and went to the break, down 29 v 0.
Mauro Sauco had made some bullocking runs but not much else to write home about from the Gaijin. Niall Conlon copped a nasty ball to the family jewels but played on only to yield to his knees soon after and come off midway through the half. He looked like he had been dragged along on his knees behind a car on an asphalt road for a couple of miles. Murray Clarke had been pinged for a few dubious ruck infringements and also came out of a maul swinging but after a bit of ‘kiss and make up’ the game was back on.
After some words of wisdom from Richard Beard the Gaijin came out for the second half looking to turn the tables – a feat that seemed impossible going on what happened in the first half. Things started well though with the Gaijin winning a string of penalties for infringements at the breakdown. Mauro Sauco took it upon himself to charge at the opposition from the penalty taps and was a hard man for the opposition to bring down. With some new go-forward the Gaijin looked like a completely different team. Captain Nimmo and old-head Richard Beard were calling the shots and Joso Club were having trouble keeping the Gaijin out. With the forward pack hungrily lining up to take the ball up and some quick recycling from Nimmo they pounded away at the Joso try line for long periods. Sauco picked up a try but deserved more for his efforts. Nimmo also got over the line. A penalty try was also awarded to the Gaijin for constant infringements in the ruck area from Joso Club. The scorers of the other tries were forgotten by this writer, who was also linesman (having an injury of his own – broken forearm from months before), but they were probably All-France players. I don`t think Richard Beard got across the line but he certainly deserved it with many sniping runs down the blind side and generally keeping the Joso players on the back-foot with clever option taking.
One highlight of the game was two drop-goals by Mark Pearson to convert tries. It wasn`t until his very last game with the club that we knew he could kick. He came off not long after the second one with blood streaming from his nose claiming his nose was broken. While off the paddock, the Gaijin scored again and Pearson promptly came back onto the field to have another crack. This one was from in front but was waved away proving nobody is perfect. Was it the broken nose? Anyway, Pearson decided to rejoin the fray and stayed on for the rest of the game. I never did find out if he had broken his nose but I suspect it was just a ploy to give his 44 year old body a bit of rest!
The only time Joso Club managed to get into the Tokyo Gaijin half during the second half of the game was a runaway try from within their own half, which they scored under the black dot giving them the easiest of conversions.
The Final Score 36 v 27 to Joso club.
It was a game of two distinct halves. Chalk and cheese! Joso Club completely dominated the first half and the TGRFC completely dominated the second. I`ve never seen such a turnaround before!
Best players for the Gaijin were Alistair Nimmo and Richard Beard with the two halves marshalling their big forwards well and of course the big Argentinian, Mauro Sauco, who had one of his best games for the club. Fellow forwards, Murray Clarke and Arthur Strang, turned it on in the second half after quiet first halves. Jo Iwasaki, Mike Parks, Beard and Conlon put in brave performances despite their injuries.
Man-of-the-Match was hard to split, but I think Richard Beard in his last game for the club was a worthy recipient. He hadn`t played for he club for about 6 months but he looked like a spring chicken out on the field, despite closing in on 40! He had to visit the doctor after the game and we were all surprised when he showed up on crutches and his leg plastered from ankle to groin. We wish him all the best with the novels he has planned and look forward to reading them sometime down the track.
Sadly, it was also the last game for another aging warrior and long time Gaijin – Vice Captain Mark Pearson. He has decided to continue practicing law in Hong Kong. One positive is that Hong Kong is not far and we all have a place to crash there now. He may also be in town from time to time for guest appearances. Good luck Mark!
Captain Alistair Nimmo shamefully dragged the Gaijin name through the dirt for not having the team at Sunday morning`s pre-game ceremony. This is the same ceremony where ex-captain Blake Walker made his famous speech in 2005 (“ I started playing rugby in New Zealand when I was 4…and on and on… and blah….blah….blah”)
which is talked about at many a rugby get-together…..well Tokyo Gaijin social events anyway. Nimmo was due to give a speech also, as the Gaijin had won Saturday`s Tens Tournament again, but feigned ignorance. He blamed Steve Bull and Joffa Harris for not telling him and claimed it was a conspiracy aimed at seeing him crying and begging for forgiveness in front of the Tokyo Rugby Underworld masquerading as the Sugadaira Committee. For a bloke who is half Japanese his Japanese leaves a lot to be desired.
After collecting our prize – boxes of lettuce – we stopped off at an onsen on our way back to grey, dreary Tokyo. Before we reached our destination we were already missing the fresh air and that beautiful green grass they have up there.
Last, but not least, a big thanks to All-France for making it possible for us to field a team. We couldn`t have done it without you! Thankyou All France, Thankyou drivers (Conlon and Bull), Thankyou helpers and Thankyou Sugadaira!