After 4 close losses on the trot, the TGRFC gathered in Chiharadai on the 26th of November, 2006, hoping to stop their slide and finish the year with three straight victories. Playing their first Ichihara League game for the year the team sensed it was gettable as they had gone through the League undefeated last year but their opposition on this day, Chiba Barbarians, were one of the toughest in the league and the Gaijin were missing some experienced players. The Gaijin started with newcomer Arnaud Fouche in the second row and 2 complete newcomers to the sport in Ajen Birmingham and Erin Hughes on the bench. Joffa Harris was also starting his first game in 8 months after a broken right forearm kept him frustrated on the sidelines. Some were just hoping that he would let hs play do the talking and not his mouth.
It has been a long time since the TGRFC has lost 5 on the trot and they didn`t want that hanging over their heads. The game started very promisingly with Andy Ballard retaining the ball from their own kickoff. He was driven into touch but Eric Hermand got up high to pressure the Barbarians ‘gaijin’ lineout jumper in the ensuing lineout. A sloppy ball to their halfback was lost and claimed by the Gaijin. Sean O`Donoghue controlled the ball at the back of a rolling maul and then Rob Poulton broke away, crashed through a couple of tackles, and dived over the line to put the first points of the game on the board. Shaunne Hughes missed the conversion but the Gaijin were up 5v0 after just a couple of minutes.
All the good work was soon undone when some poor tackling allowed the Barbarians to draw even but they also failed to convert to leave the score tied at 5v5.
Soon after, a loose ball was pounced on by Joffa Harris who palmed off a defender, then passed the ball out to Ballard on the wing. Ballard had some space to move and made good yards upfield and managed to offload to O`Donoghue despite being tackled by the cover defense. O`Donoghue drew the last line of defense before passing onto Eric Hermand who showed a clean pair of heels to get over the line midway between the posts and the sideline. Hughes converted and the Gaijin were back in front 12v5.
The Chiba Barbarians were not going to give up so easily and were soon pounding away at the TGRFC line. Good defensive rucking and mauling kept them out for a handful of rucks but realizing they were not going to get through the forward pack the Barbarians quickly spun the ball wide. Some ordinary defense from the Gaijin outside backs and perhaps a lack of speed out wide allowed the Chiba wing to run around the last defensive player and plant a try out wide. Once again they failed to convert to leave the score at 12v10 to the Gaijin.
This was to be the halftime score. The Gaijin had looked good in patches, although it was a bit worrying to let the other side get back into the game so easily after each of their tries. Hermand had had a great first half and never let the tall foreigner who played for the Barbarians get comfortable in the lineout and constantly out-jumped him or forced him to give sloppy ball to his halfback. Arnaud Fouche showed promise and like his countryman Hermand, gets good height in the lineout. Tucker McEwen and Andy Ballard had also showed good pace and great hassling on the loose ball.
The Gaijin needed to score first in the second half to put the game beyond Chiba Barbarians` reach and did exactly that. From his own quarter line Jo Iwasaki put through a kick towards the sideline. The ball was never going to go out though and in his panic to get the ball into touch ‘soccer style’ the Chiba fullback completely over-ran the ball. Joffa Harris was first to it. The temptation was to boot it down field on the run. However, after just seeing the Chiba fullback make a ‘goose’ of himself, Harris decided discretion was the wiser option and picked up the ball, and then turned the it inside to Iwasaki who was behind in support. Iwasaki drove upfield in traffic for about 10 metres then passed off to Hughes who went inside and then outside the defense, bamboozled the Chiba fullback and showed good pace to get to the line and touchdown next to the posts. He converted to make the score 19 v 10 to the TGRFC.
With the Chiba Barbarians now needing at least a converted try and then some the Gaijin began to test their defenses further. Hughes, from just within his own half, threw a cutout ball to McEwen who ran around the Chiba outside backs then threw the ball back inside to Hughes who once again showed great speed to score under the posts. He made no mistake with the conversion and the Gaijin were on the way to a victory. Score 26 v 10 to the Gaijin.
The Gaijin were on a roll and were starting to tease the defense with some great ballwork. The Chiba Barbarian No.8 was starting to get a bit ‘shirty’, giving lip and generally trying to unsettle the Gaijin players who thus far had displayed good discipline considering some of the average decisions that went against them. Captain Alistair Nimmo, doing a great job trying to keep a lid on the situation, had a snipe at the defense, drew a few defenders and passed off to Ballard who made further ground upfield, and then passed inside to Hermand who then passed outside to O`Donoghue. O`Donoghue palmed off the chasing No.8 as he flew down the touchline and then ran around to score under the posts. Some say he gave the No.8 the ‘Bird’ as he ran around to place the ball down. A lovely little sporting gesture to rub salt into the wound. Score 33 v 10.
In the last ten minutes the Gaijin brought on Agen Birmingham and Erin Hughes for their first games of rugby. With the inexperience of the new guys, and tiredness of the more experienced players starting to set in, the Gaijin started to look all at sea and were lucky to let the Barbarians in for only one try in that last period. At one point Ballard picked up a loose ball that nobody seemed to want at the back of a Chiba ruck in the Gaijin`s own quarter and set off down field. The referee didn`t have a clue what had happened and probably would have let him go as he should have done. Ballard may well have scored if it wasn`t for the referee listening to the 8 other ‘referees’ in the Barbarian team. They called the play and he obeyed. Their final try came from a lineout and a subsequent pushover but once again the Chiba goalkicker wasn`t on the money and failed to convert leaving the final score at 33 v 15.
The Gaijin had broken their 4 match losing streak and done so in fine style. Nimmo had marshalled his troops well all day. O`Donoghue had led the forwards strongly, ably supported by the ‘fit as a fiddle’ Dave Kelver. Rob Poulton, playing almost the full match rather than his customary half, had made some crunching tackles and even Birmingham, in his first game of rugby showed promise by two good ‘grasscutter’ tackles to deny his opposite wingman. Eric Hermand was awarded Man of the Match for a non-stop display and some great line-out jumping.
SCORE: TGRFC 33 (Hughes 2, Poulton 1, O`Donoghue 1, Hermand 1 tries, Hughes 4/5 goals) CHIBA BARBARIANS 15
MAN OF THE MATCH : Eric Hermand
1. Rob Poulton (England)
2. Dave Orwig (USA)
3. Chris Lucas (Australia)
4. Arnaud Fouche (France)
5. Sean O`Donoghue (Ireland)
6. Eric Hermand (France)
7. Dave Kelver (USA)
8. Joffa Harris (Australia)
9. Alistair Nimmo (England)
10. Shaunne Hughes (Australia)
11. Andy Ballard (England)
12. Jo Iwasaki (Japan)
13. Tucker McEwen (USA)
14. Mike Parks (England)
15. Jonathon Dean (Canada)
Reserves: Mauro Sauco (Argentina), David Huffman (Canada), Erin Hughes (USA), Ajen Birmingham (USA)