On January the 27th the Tokyo Gaijin RFC played the Yokohama Country and Athletics Club (YCAC). The pervious encounter had seen a big win to the YCAC. In fact the Gaijin hadn’t won down at the home field of the YC&AC for a number of years. The Gaijin were hoping this was to be the day that that would all change.
There was a general feeling amongst the TGRFC supporters that the referee was not up to par when the ball was kicked off…then he blew the whistle to start the game. Strange that one! The Gaijin players thought so too as they stood around watching the ball roll into touch. There were to be more blunders from the man in the middle as the game wore on. The lineout was given and the YCAC were immediately on the front foot. They camped down in the Gaijin 22 for the next 5 minutes with some concerted rucking and mauling. Gaijin prop Rob Poulton was assisted off the field at about the 5-minute mark with a lower leg injury. It was no place for the feint hearted. Soon after, the constant pressure told and a YCAC forward dived over between the uprights. With the successful conversion the YCAC were away to an early 7v0 lead.
Not long after the ensuing kickoff a beautifully placed Matt Downer kick put the YCAC fullback under immense pressure. He was double-teamed by Tucker McEwen and Yoichi Ohira. This began a long period of Gaijin dominance as they held YCAC in their own half. The referee missed a few blatant penalties as YCAC tried to change the pace of the game by slowing down quick ball, after being shell-shocked by the vigorous Gaijin rucking and mauling. The Gaijin couldn’t convert pressure into points and the referee wasn’t warning the opposition about the constant penalties being given away so it was decided that a shot at goal would be the wiser option on the next penalty. Matt Downer converted the shot at goal and the Gaijin were on the board but still trailing 7v3.
The Gaijin were back in the YCAC half again soon after the kickoff. Once again the YCAC were happy to give away penalties to stop a try. From about 10 metres out from the YCAC try line wing Hitoshi Chihara took a quick tap and caught the big YCAC forwards napping. He was smothered on the line but managed to get the ball down over it. The referee saw things differently and decided to award ‘no try’. Steve Lewis, the linesman on the day and the closest official to the ball (and YCAC Manager) even admitted later that it was a try. Why he and the referee didn’t confer at the time is beyond comprehension. I guess that’s called home ground advantage!
Whenever YCAC looked like getting into the Gaijin side of halfway standoff Matt Downer would launch a huge bomb. This tactic was working well as they were well chased by the outside backs. The Gaijin scrum was also strong and kept overpowering the usually immovable YCAC pack. The Gaijin were forced to keep pounding away at the try line and the ruck infringements continued unabated. Onlookers were wondering when a Yellow Card or a penalty try was to come but neither eventuated.
Downer had two more shots at goal. One from 48 metres out and center which went just wide. The other was closer but wider out and it went wide and too low.
The Gaijin were to go into the halftime break with nothing except a penalty goal to show for their dominance. The half ended with the YCAC up 7v3.
Early in the second half Yoichi Ohira diffused a dangerous situation by marking a bomb. Matt Downer put it 10 metres into the YCAC half. Soon after the YCAC were penalized for hands in the ruck again and Downer stepped up to put the ball out just outside the YCAC 22 metre line. After some thrust and parry the Gaijin took a quick free kick and the YCAC were caught offside. Downer again put in an ace kick. From the lineout the Gaijin pushed towards the YCAC line but the maul collapsed and they were awarded a 5metre scrum. Joe Fisher, an ex-Gaijin captain, was seen flying into the ruck with a high swinging arm on fellow Kiwi Murray Clarke. Was the plan to take Clarke out? After all, he had shown a clear superiority jumping in the line outs. The YCAC managed to win the ball back from the following attack and boot it into touch for a slight breather. But soon after the Gaijin were on the attack again. The ball went from left to right and back again with some good chain passing. The result saw big Mauro Sauco charging at the try line out wide on the left. He was swamped just before the line but managed to drag the defense over and score. The referee saw it differently and ruled that he had been held up over the line.. Well, actually he didn’t see it at all but gave the YCAC the benefit of the doubt….C’mon, it’s their ground after all. Everyone in near proximity thought that it was a try, except the YCAC players who were quick to tell the referee that it wasn’t a try. The Gaijin had to soldier on unrewarded again.
Another penalty for hands in the ruck followed and finally the referee found his Yellow Card in his deep pockets and sin-binned the YCAC number 8. The Gaijin, confident in their scrummaging, went for a scrum from the penalty 5 metres out from the YCAC try line. With the Gaijin scrum shunting forward and turning the bigger YCAC pack the loose forwards and the halfback were licking their lips in anticipation of a pushover try. With the ball a half metre from the try line and still under the feet a YCAC boot lashed out and sent the ball up towards halfway in a blatant display of foul play. No penalty was given and YCAC were let off the hook. Truth be told, the referee was unsighted…. again.
The Gaijin managed to lose possession and from the ensuing scrum at halfway YCAC kept the ball alive with some good passing through the hands and one of their flankers raced away for a 30 metre try. They converted to make their lead 14 v 3.
The Gaijin collective heads dropped. From what was close to being a try at the other end had led to a try to their opposition. There was time for one last roll of the dice. However, every time the Gaijin looked like getting into YCAC territory the ball would be lost and the YCAC would resort to kicking deep to play the game in the TGRFC half to wind down the clock – a smart tactic to protect their lead.
With time almost up on the clock the Gaijin rumbled close to the YCAC line and it took quick thinking from replacement back, Apisai Bati, to get the ball out wide quickly with a big cutout pass and for winger Andy Ballard to flank his opposite number and score close to the corner. The conversion failed leaving the score 14 v 8. This was to be the final result.
It had been a tough and spirited encounter. Both sides would have been pleased with their defensive efforts. Bruising is another word that springs to mind. The Gaijin had a clear territorial advantage but had failed to put the nail in the coffin. The referee was clearly inept which didn’t help the TGRFC`s cause. There had been lots of niggle and the referee had allowed both teams to use their hands in the ruck too often without a stern warning. Full credit to the YCAC for playing to the whistle. Unfortunately for the Gaijin the whistle carrier was incompetent. It left a bitter aftertaste knowing that they had outscored the YCAC but the scoreboard didn’t show it.
It was also a rare game where the Gaijin won the penalty count with the YCAC realizing early that the referee had no backbone and was reluctant to get tough on habitual offenders.
It’s been so long since the Gaijin have won down there in Yokohama that, perhaps, they have forgotten how to win there.
The set pieces for the Gaijin were very solid and they easily out pointed their opponents. The scrum, which is often their Achilles heel, was powerful and constantly shunted the YCAC pack backwards. Murray Clarke was outstanding (It just shows that you don`t have to be a farmer to be out standing in your field!) in the lineouts one week after being out pointed there. Perhaps it was the lifters with Wade Dahlgren and Takayuki Kitajima getting plenty of height.
It’s hard to single anyone out in the forward pack but Dan Salter, Murray Clarke and Garrett Washington deserve a special mention for the amount of work they got through. Wade Dahlgren was particularly explosive with the ball in hand and constantly caused havoc, knocking away would-be tacklers and dragging them with him.
Matt Downer, at standoff, led the backs well, put in some crunching tackles and used a clever kicking game. He was everyone’s choice for man of the match, closely followed by Dahlgren. The outside backs seemed to get caught a lot in the midfield instead of going wide and stretching the big YCAC forwards over the full width of the field. Perhaps this is where the Gaijin game plan failed?
It is just a pity that we have to wait so long for the rematch.
SCORE : YC&AC 14 v TGRFC 8 (A. Ballard 1 try, M. Downer 1/3 penalty, 0/1 goal)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Matt Downer
No Goat of the Match given as good performances all round.
1.Rob Poulton (England)
2.Toru Kanamori (Japan)
3.Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)
4.Wade Dahlgren (USA)
5.Will Thompson (Australia)
6.Garrett Washington (USA)
7.Murray Clarke (New Zealand)
8.Dan Salter (England)
9.Alaister Nimmo (England)
10. Matt Downer (New Zealand)
11. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
12. Niall Conlon (England)
13. Tucker McEwen (USA)
14. Andy Ballard (England)
15. Yoichi Ohira (Japan)
16. Oi San (Gentle Giants- Japan)
17. Mauro Sauco (Argentina)
18. Erin Hughes (USA)
19. Joffa Harris (Australia)
20. Gaz Dalrymple (Scotland)
21. Steve Bull (England)
22. Jo Iwasaki (Japan)
23. Apisai Bati (Fiji)
24. Yoshihiro Sato (Japan)