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Gaijin Top Table

Tento-MoshiGaijin Top Table.
{Sunday 16th September, Shuto League ,Yanokouchi, Tokyo, Japan }
The Tokyo Gaijin RFC were looking forward to their rematch with Tento Mushi (Translation : Lady Bugs/ Lady Birds/ Lady Beetles – whatever tickles your fancy) after a very close match last year (17v12 to Tento Mushi). While Tento Mushi Club went on to win the competition the Gaijin lost a few games that perhaps they should have won, and ended up languishing near the bottom of the table. The match had originally been set down for Kizoochi Field way out in Saitama but with that field still under water from the recent Typhoon Number 9 that drenched Tokyo the week before, the game was cancelled. A day later it was back on at Yanokuchi Field – much closer to home for many guys.
With at last 6 regular starting members missing from the team, including Captain Alaister Nimmo, regular try-scorer Apisai Bati, and lineout legend Murray Clarke, there were some that doubted the teams’ ability to overcome Tento Mushi. However, with the depth the club has managed to build this year, the team still looked strong on paper. There were a few notable changes though. So Nagashima was coming back into the flanker position after 2 years out on the wing, and Toru Kanamori was switching to halfback from hooker, something he has only done on the Manila and Sugadaira tours. Yoichi Ohira was supposed to start at Flyhalf but didn`t make the designated meeting time due to the fact he was still in bed. In his defense, you should all know that it is difficult for Japanese Salary Men to get up before 11:00am on Sundays. The game started with Tento Mushi kicking off with a strong wind at their backs. Dave Kelver took the kickoff and charged straight into the oncoming defence. The first defender`s head went back with a sickening whiplash-like swing with what looked to be a leading forearm from Kelver but the referee didn`t see it that way and allowed play to go on. It`s rare that the TGRFC get away with such moments so things were looking good. It became even better when the Gaijin were given the first 4 penalties, all to do with ruck infringements. That`s rare indeed! It was all due to the aggressive rucking of the Gaijin forward pack, which had the Tento Mushi pack back-peddling and resorting to ‘sly’ tactics to slow down the rucks.
 The Gaijin were the first team to look like scoring when lock Joe Fisher, filling in for Nimmo at Captain, charged at the defence from a penalty tap. The forwards were in quickly to support him and put on a great shove. The ball was fed out to Andy Ballard on the wing but, unfortunately, he was tackled into touch before he could reach the try-line. Around this time Lonnie Childress went off with a popped shoulder and Yoichi Ohira came on to do his thing at flyhalf, with Hitoshi Chihara moving to wing.
 Things began to change soon after when Paulo de Berriozabal was penalized for being offside at a ruck. Tento Mushi Club pushed deep into Gaijin territory from some concerted mauling. The ball came out to the back-line and Niall Conlon, looking for the big hit, missed his man and Tento Mushi were under the post to get the first points of the game. Unbelievably, their goal-kicker missed from in front and the score remained at 5v0 to the Ladybugs.
Soon after Ohira put through a kick, which was well chased by Tucker McEwen. He was first to the ball and toed it further up field. The Tento Mushi fullback dived on the ball but McEwen was there to take him down and earned a penalty for the Gaijin as the fullback had no support and wouldn`t release the ball. Soon after Fisher made a stunning break up field and managed to link with Ohira, who then passed it back to Fisher. Unfortunately he couldn`t link with the flying McEwen outside him and the ball went to ground in the tackle. It was a chance gone begging! Many believe that Fisher even surprised himself that he had made so much ground and that he was in so much space. It was later said that his pace is quite deceptive – he`s actually slower than he looks. There followed some intense exchanges. Kiwi prop, Chris Fearon, was soon begging to be replaced due to painful shin splints and earned the early shower with a big hit before he was replaced. The Basque terror, Paulo de Berriozabal, was not to be outdone and pulled off 3 consecutive grass-cutter tackles on the edge of the ruck. The strong defense was beginning to take its toll on the Tento Mushi side and soon after Ohira put McEwen into a beautiful gap. McEwen beat the fullback but was ankle-tapped 5 metres out from the tryline. Many believe he still could have scored but he unselfishly passed the ball onto the supporting So Nagashima who strolled across the tryline under the black dot. Ohira converted with his dropkick to make the score 7v5 in favor of the Gaijin club.
Soon after, Sean O`Donogue, who was having a whale of a game, ran down the blind and outskirted the defense to touch down out on the right side of the field. Ohira couldn`t convert this time but the Gaijin were happy to be in front 12v5 and managed to hold this lead until halftime. In the halftime huddle there was a scent of victory and Fisher was willing the team to believe that with another half of similar committed rugby that victory was assured. Besides, Tento Mushi looked buggered (tired) and the Gaijin would have the wind at their backs this half.!
From the kickoff the Gaijin forwards managed to retrieve the ball. Soon after, Ohira made a strong hit-up and managed to pass the ball to Fisher in traffic. He offloaded to Conlon who drew a few defenders and passed it off to McEwen screaming down the touchline. McEwen broke a tackle and managed to run around closer to the posts to score and put the Gaijin further in front, 17v5. Unfortunately his efforts to make the goal easier were not followed up with Ohira missing the kick, but a 17v5 lead and the wind at the back was making victory seem more and more likely.
Tento Mushi would have none of that though and worked their way up-field and were able to peg one back after some messy work from the Gaijin backs. McEwen, proving that he is human, threw a loose pass to Ballard behind his own try-line, which went to ground. Ken Kondo attempted to help out but only succeeded in fumbling it and a Tento Mushi player was able to dive on the scraps for a soft try. The conversion was also given despite being a metre wide of the post. The Gaijin touch judge called it wide but the opposition touch judge gave it as a fair goal. The referee went with the latter, deciding that the Kiwi touch judge, Blake Walker, was obviously a lying criminal. (Note: Yours truly was behind the touch line geeing up the team and was dead in line with it and the criminal was right!!). Score: 17v12 to the Gaijin.
Soon after big Dave Huffman was lunging at the Tento Mushi try-line but was just short and ended up losing the ball and the Ladybugs managed to scramble it into touch. The respite didn`t last long though as Fisher made a half-break and was able to offload to Hitoshi Chihara who broke away down the left wing and ran 30 metres to touch down. Ken Kondo, taking over the kicking duties from Ohira, added the extras to make the score 24v12.
From the ensuing kickoff O`Donoghue broke 4 tackles with his trademark fend but his good work was soon wasted with the Gaijin losing the ball at a ruck. Tento Mushi then made TGRFC supporters worried when they scored and converted after a lack of commitment from the tiring Gaijin forwards to get over the rucks and a few poor attempted tackles. Score: 24v19 to the Gaijin.
A smile was brought back to their faces when McEwen showed great guile and pace to break through the defense again and score to give himself a double for the day. Kondo failed to convert leaving the score at 29v19 but with time fast running out victory to the Gaijin looked assured.
After a string of penalties against the Gaijin, Tento Mushi, showing that ‘never give up’ spirit that helped them win the competition last year, were able to make things just a little closer with a try but failed to convert leaving the score at 29v24.
Tento Mushi pushed hard at the Gaijin line over the last 5 minutes with a helping hand from the referee, who decided to even the ledger with numerous penalties, but were unable to get that last try to snatch victory due to stoic defense.
At the post match celebrations Paulo de Berriozabal and Sean O`Donoghue were jointly awarded the Man of the Match award for standout performances in a well-performed forward pack. They were both out-sculled though by back Andy Ballard, who was awarded the Goat of the Match for kicking the ball into one of his team mates. He doubly deserved it for not touching down a ball in-goal and instead booting it out to the 22metre line to a very thankful Tento Mushi player. Luckily nothing bad came of it. Tucker McEwen, returning from a military stint in the Middle East, was a standout in the back-line with some great running rugby. He scored 2 tries and could have had 2 more. Yoichi Ohira, in only his second game at fly-half also had a very solid game and Joe Fisher, as always, led by example.
The win leaves the Gaijin on top of the points table after two rounds with two wins and two bonus points.
When questioned later at the press conference stand-in skipper Fisher had the following words to say: “The way we played and the character we showed to come away with the ‘W’ against the team that won the league last year meant that I came home very proud to be associated with this club.”
He continued:“Paulo and Sean were both worthy winners of the ‘Player of the Day’ as both had great games. However, like against the Crusaders match a couple of weeks ago, it was another day when everyone contributed and nobody played badly. A true team effort, especially pleasing on a day when we were missing a handful of ‘core’ players for various reasons – the forwards dominated the Tentomushi pack and the backs looked as dangerous as I have seen this year. Even a team effort some individuals do shine brighter than others though and, along with Sean and Paulo, perhaps a special mention is due to Tucker. He set So up for a great try, scored two very good tries for himself and actually should have had a third if a certain forward had made use of a clear overlap. (Sorry mate, I’ll try and do better next time!)”.
When quizzed about the TGRFC`s chances of taking out the title he said “After having to play the first division promotion / relegation last season we have made the best possible start to the Shuto league this season with two wins from our first two outings. The challenge now of course is to keep it going. I would suggest that if the team keeps working hard for each other then anything is possible”.

TGRFC 29 – (T. McEwen 2, S. Nagashima 1, H. Chihara 1, S. O`Donoghue 1 tries,
Y. Ohira 1/3 goals, K.Kondo 1/2 goals)
TENTO MUSHI 24 (4 tries, 2 goals)

MAN OF MATCH – Sean O`Donoghue / Paulo de Berriozabal

1. Chris Fearon (New Zealand)
2. Takashi Narita (Japan)
3. Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)
4. Sean O`Donoghue (Ireland)
5. Joe Fisher © (New Zealand)
6. Dave Kelver (USA)
7. So Nagashima (Japan)
8. Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)
9. Toru Kanamori (Japan)
10. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
11. Lonnie Childress (USA)
12. Niall Conlon (Britain)
13. Tucker McEwen (USA)
14. Ken Kondo (Japan)
15. Andy Ballard (England)
16. David Huffman (Canada)
17. Erin Hughes (USA)
18. Garren ‘Gaz’ Dalrymple (Scotland)
19. Lawrence Hii (Australia)
20. Jo Iwasaki (Japan)
21. Yoichi Ohira (Japan)
22. Yoshihiro Sato (Japan)

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