The passionate rivalry that is evident at all meetings of the Y.C.A.C. and Tokyo Gaijin football teams was clear for all to view. Whether it be etched on the faces of veterans in the pre-game team talk, displayed in the witty banter back and forth between supporters, or displayed intensely on players faces as the game ebbs and flows. Everyone present knows that victory in this all important of games should come at all costs. At least that`s how it should have been….
Characteristically the team started slow into a blustery wind up on the hills of Yokohama City (November 26th). Players out of position early were gifting big yards to the YCAC pack. The TGRFC team was defending on their own line within minutes. Despite good work by the forwards on two occasions to gain turnover ball, mysteriously crappy kicks were put in to give the ball straight back to the opposition.
A subsequent scrum with opposition feed would be a chance to gauge who had the better of the scrum. With the Gaijin turning over the ball again opportunities presented themself. Al Nimmo darted blind with a great 50 metre run jigging off both legs and provided the much needed spark for the lads. Great support meant that Wade Dahlgren crashed over the line after some interplay and after a dubious start the team was out to an early 5 – 0 lead. The conversion, although signalled as over by the touch judge, was disallowed by an impartial and unskilled referee.
The Gaijin had a few lucky breaks after the restart with too much ‘weetbix’ on the kick, and later a turn-over at the lineout. With the set pieces, on which they pride themselves, not working for the YCAC team in the first half, the Gaijin were seeing a number of opportunities being thrown their way. This was clearly not a YCAC team up to their normal high standard. Therefore it was the perfect opportunity to sink in the boots (figuratively?) and walk away with victory.
After some enterprising interplay in the midfield and Tucker McEwen on the end of a well timed Shaunne Hughes pass, a break in the YCAC line opened up. Some more yards could have been gained were he not pulled down in a collar high tackle that more often than not is considered illegal.
Minutes later a penalty in midfield was cleared well by Hughes for good metres and the boys had some room to play with hard on attack in the oppostion quarter. Strong play by the forwards saw an opportunity present itself. Nimmo darted well again only to fall short of the line and be called up for an infringement by the referee.
This was the time for our hardy flanker Paolo de Berriozabal to leave the field for a spell. He had received a nasty gash above his left eye which was steadily bleeding. After some rather nancy comments from some of the white collar spectators on the sideline about calling ambulances and getting stitched immediately, Paolo showed his true metal. He taped it up and continued to play well into the second half. It would certainly give Buck "ball sack" Shelford something to smile about.
While Paolo was off getting his face attended to, Mike Parks the replacement was making the most of his time on the field. A strong run as part of a forward drive had the boys back on attack on the opposite side of the field. From the back of the scrum Sean O`Donoghue picked up and drove strongly bouncing off one would be tackler and spinning out of the tackle of another. He then fed to Dahlgren who went over for his second try, to make the score 10 – 0.
After things had initially looked so promising this was probably the point when things began to disintegrate. In what was uncustomarily stupid play by the forwards, they went to sleep and during this pre- break nap, YCAC charged through the them. At one stage Toru Kanamori was trying to hold back 4 tight forwards by himself as others looked on. It would have been amusing if it wasn`t so disheartening. This provided the spark that YCAC had been waiting for and with some well structured phases they burst over after some interplay in the backs for a try that was converted and would take them to the break only three points behind and with renewed vigour. Halftime Score: TGRFC 10 v YCAC 7.
The second half would start as poorly as the first one ended. Some more rather confusing calls by the referee allowing players to regain their feet after being tackled and held, and calling up players for penalties when they had stolen the ball in the tackle were frustrating matters further. A YCAC player had broken through the defensive line and was on his way to the tryline but McEwen ran him down and ripped the ball off him in the tackle before both players hit the ground. It was beautiful play by McEwen and he had every right to jump to his feet and scorch off downfield…as he did. But the referee saw things differently and called him back, penalized him and soon the YCAC were on the attack. This and a lack of regard for defence seemed to be the problems for the first try after the break. Although Andy Ballard`s scream at the kicker as he attempted a charge down worked, we were going to need more of the abnormal to turn a game around of which we had dominated for the majority of the first half. Score: YCAC 12 v TGRFC 10.
Following this 12 point shock to the system before and after the break, the TGRFC got back into the run of things and played well for the following spell. A long time on attack saw a number of opportunities. Forwards and backs were combining well to keep the ball coming back for extra opportunities. The final blow would be from Toru Kanamori who got a smell of the line from about seven metres out and drove low and hard through a couple of tackle attempts but nothing strong enough to divert him from his set course. He came up smiling and there were also smiles to be had from a number of friendly spectators as this had The Gaijin back in the lead at 15 – 12.
YCAC answered with a try of their own and the TGRFC`s lead was shortlived. This came after the Gaijin had found themselves on the attack again. A series of good phases by the forwards provided an opportunity out wider. The backs threw the ball wide only for it to be dropped badly at the end of the backline. With the team committed to going forward there was nobody there to defend when YCAC got the bounce of the ball. Some tried valiantly but at 17 – 15 to the YCAC the lead was gone.
The TGRFC didn`t play badly, and in fact dominated in the set pieces for most of the match. It was once again a game of missed opportunities and slowly moving away from a gameplan that had worked for most of the match. In what is possibly a rebuilding phase for the team, given the number of new players who have played little rugby, the team performed well. They lacked that killer punch on the day that we needed in the final minutes to maintain the slim lead we had.
The final nail in the coffin was delivered with a simple 3 on 2 man overlap on the left wing. The YCAC with extra numbers, simply drew and passed, and this most basic concept of rugby delivered them a final try. Although they were still made to work hard on their way to the tryline, superior numbers won out. With the try converted and the TGRFC looking at a final 24 – 15 scoreline they could be forgiven for thinking they had thrown the game away.
Final Score: YCAC 24 v TGRFC 15 (Dahlgren 2, Kanamori 1, Hughes 0/3 goals)
Man of the Match: Sean O`Donoghue
Goat of the Match: Wade Dahlgren (After being involved in a bit of a ‘Barney’ on the field)
1. David Huffman (Canada)
2. Toru Kanamori (Japan)
3. Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)
4. Jesse Takahashi (USA)
5. Wade Dahlgren (USA)
6. Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)
7. Eric Hermand (France)
8. Sean O`Donoghue (Ireland)
9. Alsitair Nimmo (England)
10. Shaunne Hughes (Australia)
11. Andy Ballard (England)
12. Jo Iwasaki (Japan)
13. Tomoaki Miyazawa (Japan)
14. Jonathon Dean (Canada)
15. Tucker McEwen (USA)
Reserves: Dave Orwig (USA), Mauro Sauco (Argentina), Takashi Narita (Japan), Arnaud Fouche (France), Joffa Harris (Australia), Steve Bull (England), Ajen Birmingham (USA)