On what was a particularly sticky day for playing rugby, two of the foreign teams based in Tokyo met up at the Yanokuchi rugby ground about 30 minutes west of Shinjuku. The Crusaders and Gaijin were to play their second encounter of the summer on a ground that looked short of the regulation yardage and a little worse for wear. Some severe pot holes around one of the 22m lines would be sure to create havoc for anyone who could find the gap with their kicks. With the Crusaders coming away with the win in the previous game, the TGRFC would be hungry for victory.
A stronger lineup took the field for the Gaijin than in the last game and the team showed promise in the opening stanza with some solid defense and early turnover ball. An early knock-on from the Crusaders gave the Gaijin an attacking opportunity, albeit quite a distance out. The game was punctuated by strong tackling and intense encounters at the breakdown. It was proving to be the typical type of hard rugby that two teams of Western influence would deliver. Neither side was budging, but the Crusaders looked as if they did have momentum at the breakdown and were beginning to take an extra yard or two at the tackle. This was to prove to be the catalyst for what
should have been the opening try. When the Crusaders strung a good phase together down the blind, a try looked to be on the cards. Only the winger dived short of the line and after coming up still short, lost the ball in the ensuing phase and the gaijin escaped unscathed. The opening points of the match were to come courtesy of a Shaunne Hughes penalty for the Gaijin from about 30m out and slightly to the left of the uprights. 3 v 0 to the Tokyo Gaijin.
Not to be outdone the Crusaders followed soon after with a try in the corner. They had strung numerous phases together and were stretching the Gaijin on the flanks with some long sweeping passes. Good to watch but very tiring for both sets of forwards on the paddock. With the try converted the Crusaders had their first lead of the game, and would not relinquish it. 7 v 3 to the Crusaders.
Although the TGRFC were performing admirably there was nothing special happening. Promising phases were being snuffed out by silly errors, most likely a sign of the confrontation upfront as much as the sapping conditions. At a stage late in the first half there was potential for embarrassment. A stray kick bounced short of the sideline and bounced back infield. With the TGRFC thinking the ball had gone out, the wing for the Crusaders sped up the sideline only for Captain Nimmo to beat him narrowly in a footrace and dot down for a dropout. It was eventually called out by the referee, but a moment of not playing to the whistle almost cost the TGRFC. The second try of the half was due to some slack cover defence. With an opportunity to stop the movement in the corner some lazy tackling left Crusaders standing in the tackle?and they scored and converted the try to stretch the lead out to 14 – 3 at the break.
There was a very upset English team psychologist on the sideline ( Steve Bull) who decided to call the man out who he believed was the culprit. Not surprisingly for Steve, the culprit was Shaunne Hughes. A player Steve has always stood in the highest regard. Fortunately we were able to drown out Bully`s tirade with an icy cool Kirin. The most memorable moment of the first half was the run made up the field by the new man on the wing, Tucker McEwen, formerly a running back in American football. With some open field to play with from a stray kick he raced up field shrugging off several tacklers. With only 1 man to beat he chose the spinning corkscrew move to try and drill the oppositions upper torso. In hindsight the wrong decision as the ball was lost in the ensuing phase. 10 points for effort. When we can teach him the finer subtleties of the game he could be a devastating player, much like the former raging menace on the wing, Todd ‘the body’ Collins.
With halftime came a rest for the boys and a chance to rehydrate and regroup. It was not a time to panic as the team was playing reasonably well. Just hold on to the ball and make some more of the possession we were getting and with a bit of luck we would start putting some points on the board. The second half was very much a topsy-turvey kind of half. Neither team looked to ever take control of the game even though both teams had opportunities.
Early on in the second half the Crusaders were making some strong breaks through the midfield and down the flanks. The team was covering well and scrambling defense saved the team on a number of occasions. The main playmaker for the team was no other than a former Gaijin player and captain( or more aptly a rugby sl@t). He was possibly highly motivated to perform well against a team he had formerly had dealings with.
Eventually the small errors began to creep back into the teams` play and the game looked to be moving towards a scoreless second half. The team had played alright with the forwards functioning well in the set piece and competing on equal footing at the breakdowns. The backs had a day where there weren`t a great deal of chances for them to run with clean ball, possibly due to some loose policing of the offside laws by the referee. As much to blame was the tough hardnosed approach of two teams of equal ability and game patterns.
For quite a while in the second half the Gaijin were camped in the oppositions` half with the forwards, led by big Rob Reinebach, pounding away. They also blitzed the the Crusaders scrum a few times but just didn`t seem to have the punch in the back-line
to score a try. After a string of penalties, which the Crusaders seemed happy to give away to stop the Gaijin from scoring, a try seemed to be on the cards. The famous ‘double pod’ move, invented by ex-Kiwi-captain Joe Fisher was called for only about 15 metres out from the Crusaders line. Jesse Takahashi took the first hit-up and things looked menacing with Reinebach lined up to take the next charge. Unfortunately, new boy David Huffman who has only seen the move once, got in halfback Alistair Nimmo`s way, picked up the ball, ran blind and was belted. The Crusaders picked up the loose ball and took off downfield. The ball was kicked ahead but luckily it was willed into touch 5 meters out from the Gaijin line. Another promising chance that came to nothing.
That`s what kind of day it was.
The final nail in the coffin would be the late try to Crusaders – scored by the ex-Gaijin captain Brendon O`Doherty, under the posts after a break from a scrum on halfway by their number 8 and some poor defense. It was to be the last play of the game, and at 21v3 probably flattered the Crusaders a little. The boys were a little disappointed with the loss, but knew that it was a game of missed opportunities. We could still enjoy a beer after the game, and more than we paid for, thanks to the lovely group at Sunkus near the Yanokuchi Station exit.
Man Of the Match: Rob Reinebach
1. Rob Poulton (England)
2. Dave Orwig (USA)
3. Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)
4. Jesse Takahashi (USA)
5. Sean O`Donoghue (Ireland)
6. Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)
7. Dave Kelver (USA)
8. Rob Reinebach (USA)
9. Alistair Nimmo (England)
10. Shaunne Hughes (Australia)
11. So Nagashima (Japan)
12. Niall Conlon (England)
13. Yoichi Ohira (Japan)
14. Tucker McEwen (USA)
15. Jonathon Dean (Canada)
Reserves: Toru Kanamori (Japan), David Huffman (Canada), Chris Lucas (Australia), Mauro Sauco (Argentina), Mike Parks (England), Dana Post (USA), Jo Iwasaki (Japan), Tomohiro Nakayama (Japan)