After a less than average Shuto League Campaign in the Autumn the Tokyo Gaijin RFC were slated to play Urayasu Beers Rugby Club, who were runners up in the Second Division to decide if they stay in the First Division in the next campaign. All games had been close affairs and in fact the Gaijin had the closest losing margin against eventual undefeated League winners, the Tentou Mushi Club, but ‘close losses’ are not good enough and today`s match was the punishment. Having whipped all comers in the 2nd Division the previous year, the January 28th match was to decide if the Gaijin were to stay in a competitive league or drop to a less challenging one. Always up for a challenge, they were out to keep things as they were.
Joe Fisher was back in the Club colours for the first time in a few years after spending some time in his native New Zealand and moonlighting for the YCAC. Apisai Bati was also back to strengthen the centers after spending three years with the Blue Socks Club in the Saitama League.
The game didn`t start too well with Paulo de Berriozabal dropping the kickoff. This seemed to lift the Urayasu Beers and the Gaijin seemed to drop their guard and were instantly in trouble. Everyone in attendance soon realized that Beers were going to be no pushover as they started charging into mauls and rucks with a keen desire to leave the 2nd Division behind. The Gaijin continued with a plethora of errors from pushed passes and poor tackling. It was certainly not the start that Captain Alistair Nimmo had talked of before the game.
The set pieces were also proving difficult for the Gaijin to master. Despite the experience of Joe Fisher in the front line the Gaijin scrum was being shunted around like kids after a divorce. The line-outs weren`t much better. The Urayasu Beers had obviously done their homework.
In about the 10th minute the Urayasu Beers Club scored down the right wing after a handful of strong mauls. They missed the conversion to leave the score at 5v0.
The comedy of errors continued for the Gaijin and they found themselves camped in their own half for long periods of time. Shaunne Hughes kicked a 50 metre touch-finder to relieve pressure but the Gaijin were soon back in their own half due to yet more errors.
From a 22 drop-out Hughes got the ball up over the halfway and a great chase from Jesse Takahashi saw him charge down the return kick and be first to the ball. He was tackled awkwardly and had to leave the field with a possible broken ankle (later confirmed). This had a devastating effect on the already troubled Gaijin line-out as Takahashi was the main go-to-man.
Urayasu Beers kept threatening to score but the Gaijin defense was keeping them in the game. Unbelievably, the Gaijin managed to hang on until half-time and were only down 5v0.
After an uplifting halftime speech from Captain Alistair Nimmo the Gaijin began the second half with more promise and were the first team to trouble the scorers. From the back of a scrum Nimmo passed to Hughes, who kicked over the blind-side winger and followed up, and tapped it back to Nimmo, who dummied inside then went blind again, and then passed it onto Yoichi Ohira, who then gave it back to the supporting Hughes who passed it on to Tomohiro Nakayama who scored just to the left of the posts. Hughes massacred the kick. Scores were locked at 5v5.
With the addition of Arnaud Fouche at halftime lineouts improved a little but continued to be a weak option for the Gaijin, who usually pride themselves on their lineout. Most ball for the Gaijin was coming from excellent defense and great ball recovery. The backs, led by Bati, were smashing their opposition in defense and flankers Dave Kelver and Paulo de Berriozabal were doing a mountain of work in claiming opposition ball.
The next try was to come for the Gaijin. From a ruck on the right after phase play Hughes called blind. Virtually unmarked, he scored 2 metres in from the right sideline. He converted making amends for the hash he made with the first one. Score 12v5 to the TGRFC.
Despite being outplayed thus far, the Tokyo Gaijin were in front and this seemed to put a wind in their tails. Urayasu Beers started to resort to kicking for territory. At times it worked – when the usually reliable Tomohiro Nakayama at fullback knocked on twice – but at times it backfired. One particular ball kicked through was caught by wing Andy Ballard about 30 metres out from the tryline. Ballard shimmied, showed a nice step and cut inside the defense and zipped upfield. He offloaded in the tackle to de Berriozabal who pushed through and scored. Hughes converted to make the score 19v5.
By now the Urayasu Beers had almost given up and the Gaijin were well and truly getting on top. Even their fearful scrum was starting to wilt and one of their props was replaced with a grizzy, gnarled old fella, but their scrum remained quite solid.
The final say in the game was to be from the Tokyo Gaijin club. Takashi Narita went blind from a ruck about 10 out. He barged off two and scored about 5 in from touch. Hughes once again converted to make the final score 26v5.
In all fairness, the Gaijin were completely outplayed in the set pieces. The line-outs were abysmal and the scrums need a lot of work before the upcoming Tokyo Cup. Luckily time is on their side. The enterprising and clever play from the scrum half partnership of Nimmo and Hughes and the strong running of Apisai Bati in the centers were what won them the game. The loose forwards Dave Kelver, Paulo de Berriozabal and Joffa Harris got through a lot of work in loose play to make up for the lost ball at all the set pieces, and Joe Fisher was a workaholic in the rucks and mauls.
The final scoreline made the Gaijin look better than what they were but the end result ensured that they would live to fight another day in the Shuto League First Division.
FINAL SCORE: TGRFC 26 (Nakayama 1, Hughes 1, De Berriozabal 1, Narita 1 tries, Hughes 3/4 goals) Urayasu Beers 5
MAN OF THE MATCH: Apisai Bati
GOAT OF THE GAME: Dave Huffman (for charging at the last line of defense, which was a relatively little fullback (Huff`s only 120kgs), and throwing a no-look pass to no-one just before contact. Did the fullback scare him?? Maybe that`s how they play in Canada.)
Joe Fisher (New Zealand)
Takashi Narita (Japan)
David Huffman (Canada)
Jesse Takahashi (USA)
Mike Parks (England)
Dave Kelver (USA)
Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)
Joffa Harris (Australia)
Alistair Nimmo © (England)
Shaunne Hughes (Australia)
Andy Ballard (England)
Bati Apisai (Fiji)
Yoichi Ohira (Japan)
Jonathon Dean (Canada)
Tomohiro Nakayama (Japan)
Reserves: Mauro Sauco (Argentina), Niall Conlon (England), Steve Bull (England), Jo Iwasaki (Japan), Christian (Norway), Yoshihiro Sato (Japan)