The Tokyo Gaijin Versus The Gentle Giants (Sunday Setpember 30 – Shuto League, Yanokouchi, Tokyo, Japan)
The Tokyo Gaijin (TGRFC) has stormed to the top of the Shuto League ladder, securing a comprehensive 30v10 win over the Gentle Giants. While the contest between the Gaijin and the Giants was fought to the very end, the Gaijin always had the upper hand after establishing dominance over the Giants forward pack from the opening minutes.
The two teams gathered at Yanokuchi Field both surprised that the game was actually going ahead as it had been raining quite heavily all morning and was to continue all day. The field was covered in pools of water more suited to ‘Underwater Rugby’. The trouble is – nobody had brought their snorkel. It was the Gaijin Club`s turn at ‘Field Duty’ and chalking the field was a Mission Impossible within itself.
With regular Captain Alaister Nimmo, fill-in Captain Joe Fisher, Niall Conlon and Jo Iwasaki overseas for the wedding of ex-Gaijin Prop Mark Pearson in Slovenia, and Sean O`Donoghue, Joffa Harris, Andy Ballard, Loni Chidress and Mauro Sauco also out, one could be excused for thinking that the Gaijin would struggle. Murray Clarke took over the Captaincy for the day with improving standoff Yoichi Ohira at Vice Captain.
While the backs oozed ‘class’ on paper the team would be looking to the experienced Clarke, who started his TGRFC career more than a decade ago, and Paulo de Berriozabal to lead a rather inexperienced forward pack..
With so many regulars out the team was buoyed by the late inclusion of a few new players namely ex-Fijian International and current Suntory Assistant Coach, Alfie Uluinayau, at center, and halfback Yoshihiro Okamoto. Young Temple University student, Tyler Rumsey, was also making his first run-on appearance for the Gaijin.
The Gaijin looked set to run away with the game early after some great forward drives led to Alfie Uluinayau bursting through a hole on his own side of halfway, drawing the fullback and offloading for Apisai Bati to flank the Gentle Giants and score the first points of the game at the 5 minute mark. Uluinayau failed to convert but the promising start had the Gaijin up 5v0.
To their credit though, the Gentle Giants struck right back, when they were able to break a few tackles after some concerted forward charges and good speed to the breakdown, to get over the Gaijin try-line. They failed to convert their try though, leaving the scores locked at 5v5.
A long break by Clarke not long after the restart had the Gaijin back in Giants territory, but the ball was eventually lost by a back, and the promising run came to nothing. Uluinayau soon followed up with a deft chip kick that was taken on the full by Tucker McEwen to put the Gaijin over the Giants 22metre line. A bullocking charge by Ohira soon after had the Gaijin attack on the front foot, and a few phases later Uluinayau used his considerable strength to wrestle across the line but great defense by the Gentle Giants was able to hold him up – no try. The Gaijin forwards were working very well though and keeping their opposition pinned in their own 22m line and the tired defense was soon broken by Tyler Rumsey burying the ball over the line between the posts after a charge up the center of the ruck – his first try for the Gaijin. Bati missed his dropkick conversion from in front to leave the score at 10v5 to the Gaijin.
Uluinayau was to cap a fantastic first half effort with a try to the right of the posts after breaking 2 tackles on his way to the line. He failed to convert his try so the Gaijin ended the half up 15v5.
It had been a storming effort, with the forwards laying down a strong platform for the backs. As expected, Paulo de Berriozabal and Clarke had led the forwards brilliantly with some great ‘pick and drives’ and bruising defense. They were ably supported by the rest of the forward pack with props Takayuki Kitajima and Chris Fearon standing out with some stinging tackles. Clarke, along with Dave Kelver, was dominating the line-outs and stealing a few of his oppositions balls. He was assisted by some pinpoint throwing from hooker Takashi Narita. The two Fijian centers, Uluinayau and Bati, had been causing trouble all half showing great hands in the wet conditions and causing the Gentle Giants defense a lot of headaches.
The second half started with some more great mauling from the Gaijin forward pack with one rolling maul going 25 metres. They were playing perfect rugby for the conditions and absolutely steamrolling the Gentle Giants pack. Openside flanker, Dave Kelver, was rewarded for his non-stop tackling and ‘fetching’ with a try off the back of a rolling maul. Once again Uluiyanau failed to convert but the Gaijin had skipped out to a 20v5 lead.
The TGRFC were on the scoreboard not long later when Kiwi prop, Chris Fearon, capped off some gutsy ‘charge and barge’ work by the forwards to dive over and slam the ball down. The score remained at 25v5 when Uluiyanau failed to convert once again.
The last try to the Gaijin was also scored by a forward and was a fitting reward for the hard work they had put in. De Berriozabal finished off some more good mauling work by the forwards to roll off the back of a maul and plant the ball over the line. The conversion was missed leaving the score at 30v5.
As the tiring Gaijin forward pack started to wilt and fall off tackles and a few
inexperienced players got their time on the field the Gentle Giants started to find a second wind. Clever grubber kicks through the defense by Uluinayau to keep turning the Giants around was a good ploy as picking up the ball in the wet conditions was tricky, but eventually the Gaijin defense broke and the Gentle Giants were able to finish off the scoring with a late try. In a shocking day for the kickers they could not add the conversion leaving the final score at 30v5.
It was still anyone`s game at halftime but the continued dominance of the Gaijin forward pack early in the second half took the wind out of the Giants` sails. If Uluinayau had been more successful with his kicks the victory margin to the Gaijin would have been even more impressive. He was awarded the Goat of the Game at the post-match function. This was probably a little harsh considering the wet conditions, which were not exactly conducive to goal kicking, but he took it well. Besides, his dominant display in the midfield went close to gaining him the Man of the Match award.
There were plenty of other heroes for the Gaijin who were extra determined to come out on top with so many regular starters missing. Murray Clarke played an inspirational role as fill-in Captain in one of his best performances for the Gaijin, however it was hard to give the Man of the Match to just one man, and Paulo de Berriozabal shared the honor (for the second game in a row) after his outstanding game. They had both tackled themselves to a standstill by the end of the game and led the forwards in some powerful ‘pick and drives’ and great rolling maul work. All the forwards had played well and set the platform for the classy back-line. Uluiyanau and Bati showed some freakish touches and I dare say, would have come up with a lot more tries on a dry pitch. Also catching the eye was Yoichi Ohira, who made some barnstorming runs from standoff and always had his backline going forward. After only three games at standoff he is really starting to come into his own.
With the Gentle Giants looking like serious Competition Winners before kickoff, and despite the absence of quite a few starting members, the ability of the TGRFC to rise to the challenge was admirable. The team at the moment seems to have a real resilience about it. They have had a lot of challenges over the last month and they have just risen to the occasion every time. The performance was a stunning show of unity. They just keep aiming up and they keep believing that the 22 picked on game day will do the job. Bring on the next contender!
SCORE: TGRFC 30 (A. Bati 1, T. Rumsey 1, A. Uluinayau, D. Kelver 1, C. Fearon 1, P. de Berriozabal 1 tries, A. Uluinayau 0/5 conversions, Bati 0/1 conversions)
GENTLE GIANTS 10 (2 tries, 0/2 conversions)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Paulo de Berriozabal/ Murray Clarke
GOAT OF THE MATCH: Alfie Uluinayau ( for missing all his shots at goal)
1.Chris Fearon (New Zealand)
2.Takashi Narita (Japan)
3.Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)
4.Tyler Rumsey (USA)
5.Murray Clarke (New Zealand)
6.Dave Kelver (USA)
7.So Nagashima (Japan)
8.Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)
9.Yoshihiro Okamoto (Japan)
10.Yoichi Ohira (Japan)
11.Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
12.Bati Apisai (Fiji)
14.Ken Kondo (Japan)
15.Tucker McEwen (USA)
16.Toru Kanamori (Japan)
17.David Huffman (Canada)
18.Erin Hughes (USA)
19.Garren ‘Gaz’ Dalrymple (Scotland)
20.Lawrence Hii (Australia)
21.Go Ito (Japan)
22.Jeff Takahashi (USA)