As is customary for playing the game in this part of the world, the day began by rising early and then travelling to a picturesque setting far from Tokyo in this case – Omiya Kempo, a well-grassed paddock, that at this time of the season is ripe for running rugby. The Tokyo Gaijin RFC were to have their first game of the Shuto League First Division against Clover Club.
The TGRFC would be the team to accept the kickoff against Clovers, with a gentle breeze behind them. Not strong enough to be significant at ground level, but enough to provide a slight respite from a strong sun beating down from a cloudless sky. From the kickoff the team tried to make the game harder for themselves by allowing the ball to bounce. For what is considered rugby basics experienced members of the team were found out. After this initial mistake the ball was recovered and the start of a very long phase was in its initial throes. All members of the team were involved in trying to propel the team out of their own half. The initial skill level looked promising with members of the team linking well, Chris Lucas looking at his best in the first several minutes of the game. With such a long initial phase members of both teams were already looking tired with the rugby approaching the 90 second mark. When the ball was lost Niall Conlon put his mark on the game with some ferocious tackling. Several minutes into the game with the team looking strong without having any real territorial advantage, captain Al Nimmo had a great snipe around the edge of a midfield ruck. Moving clear of defenders, he drew the Clovers fullback and popped to Sean O'Donoghue who decided to catch the ball on this occasion as it was passed and not kicked (like the aforementioned kickoff). He shook off a few defenders who were closing in and fed winger, Tomohiro Nakayama, who shook off those trailing him to score a good try about 10 metres to the right of the woodwork. With kicking extraordinaire Shaunne Hughes to attempt the conversion, he made quite a song and dance about the quality of the kicking tee to be used. Veteran sideline mouth Blake Walker told him to shut up and kick it. It went over as expected and the Gaijin were up 7 – 0.
The Gaijin then dropped the ball on the next play, by literally letting the ball drop from¿?the kickoff (again!). After a lucky bounce for the Clovers, which is most likely customary for a team by this name, they were hard on attack. Scrambling defence held out the Clover Club for a short time but after spinning to the other side of the field and setting another strong maul, a try was inevitable. The lead was maintained for the TGRFC at 7 – 5 but any earlier confidence was jolted out.
Indecision in the three-quarters would be the catalyst for the next try. In what was becoming a problem for the team, rugby basics were forgone for mindless play. Instead of clearing under pressure So Nagashima and Jonathan Dean decided to pass and not catch between themselves with superior numbers of defenders in their face (Editors view: So passed to Jonathon without drawing his man despite a two-on-one situation making it easy for the defender to wrap up the ball carrier). An interesting option for the spectators looking on. Not surprisingly the Clovers re-gathered and dotted down, but failed to convert again, leaving them up 10 – 7.
With O'Donoghue playing his characteristically loose ¿loose-game¿, Rob Reinebach and Dave Kelver were doing a ton of work around the sides of the rucks and mauls. Niall Conlon was strong in defence throughout the half along with the new Fijian centre recruit Arthur Levula. Despite being marked very closely by the opposition they were making half breaks that showed that they will be a handy combination together if they have time to develop. Hughes wasn`t helping the back line with some strange option taking and looking to feed the ball to a possible 16th member of our team that was roaming 20 metres away from anyone.
Half time came after keeping the Clover Club out with some desperate defence on the line, and a very cheeky tap in the lineout by Jesse Takahashi. Serious re-hydration was on the cards after a sweltering first half and a calm and controlled team talk by Nimmo was great and also vital in pointing out some of the glaring errors that were being made.
The Gaijin started strongly after the break and were over the try-line again before long. Pressure by the forwards driving the opposition pack backwards led to poor clearing of the ball. With Conlon again up in the oppositions` face competing for the ball, the pressure told and when he came up trumps he shrugged the defenders off and popped a clean ball for Hughes to streak clear and score under the posts. Unbelievably, Hughes missed his own conversion from directly in front to leave the score at 12 v 10 to the Gaijin.
In the next spell of play the Gaijin were under pressure for quite a few minutes as Clover gradually edged downfield. TGRFC continued to be strong in defence and were communicating well in repelling the effort by Clovers. A big clearing kick from the Gaijin redzone by Levula under pressure provided an opportunity. Tomohiro chased well and after a nasty head clash cleaned out the wing who caught the ball and himself. He shook it free but as a drinks break approached that and the heat would take its toll and he would leave the game after lying prone on the ground for about 5 minutes. The heat proved to be affecting more than 1 man though. Hughes continued to pass towards his invisible kin. An unlucky Clover was sent off for stamping while dead on attack, and any 1 man advantage was short-lived when Dana Post came on from the reserves bench. He lasted only about only 2 minutes. He proceeded to forget what game (he`s American afterall!) he was playing and with the Clover dead on attack with only 14 men, made a classic professional foul. It was now 14 on 14. Not surprisingly Clover scored. It meant with time running out on the clock they were up 15 – 12 and ruing the 3 missed conversions.
With the pressure to get a win to open the competition ahead of a difficult game against The Crusaders next week, the Gaijin stood up. From the back of a scrum about 5 metres from the Clover line, Rhino (Reinebach) picked the ball and drove strongly to get the crucial five points to take the lead again at 19 – 15. He had played well all game and was looking fresh and hungry after the summer break.
The team would hold on in the final minutes and take the competition points. The game had a lot of positives without being a decisive victory and there was a lot of character shown in clutching victory from the jaws of defeat.
SCORE: TGRFC 19 (T.Nakayama 1, S.Hughes 1, R.Reinebach 1 tries,
S.Hughes 2 goals) CLOVER CLUB 15 (3 tries)
MEN OF THE MATCH – Niall Conlon and Arthur Levula
GOAT OF THE MATCH – Shaunne Hughes
BRAIN EXPLOSION OF THE MATCH – Dana Post
1. Chris Lucas (Australia)
2. Toru Kanamori (Japan)
3. Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)
4. Jesse takahashi (USA)
5. Mauro Sauco (Argentina)
6. Dave Kelver (USA)
7. Sean O`Donoghue (Ireland)
8. Rob Reinebach (USA)
9. Alistair Nimmo (England)
10. Shaunne Hughes (Australia)
11. So Nagashima (Japan)
12. Niall Conlon (England)
13. Arthur Levula (Fiji)
14. Tomohiro Nakayama (Japan)
15. Jonathon Dean (Canada)
Reserves: David Huffman (Canada), Dave Orwig (USA), David Cocquempot
(France), Mike Parks (England), Jo Iwasaki (Japan), Dana Post
(USA), Ian Airforce (USA), Mikkel Kragh (Denmark)