Yes, indeed. A great day for rebuilding confidence. A great day to enjoy rugby and a great day weather-wise. This was exactly what the Gaijin required to get their competition back on the tracks. Needing a large victory margin and 4 try bonus point so we can hope to end the Pool Stage with a chance to progress.
An early start to the day saw a large group of Gaijin arrive at Kizoochi with the rain dissipating and the morning sun finally breaking out. A good long build up had the team go through forward and back moves, gather together for some stretching, passing drills and then a quick game of 4-handed touch with the focus on defensive positioning, creating and using gaps in the defense. A solid team run had the squad warmed up and raring to go; minds sharp and focused on the moves and game before them.
The game started with a hiss and a roar.
Goddamns kicked into the hands of Joffa Harris, an aging but nonetheless multi-talented Number 8, who ran the ball hard back to the center of the field. Joffa burst through 2 tackles, offloading to Garrett Washington, who passed on to Joe Fisher. The ball spent a brief moment in a maul and was recycled rapidly out to Bati Apisai, on to Al Nimmo, who ran forward and handed the ball to the big prop Scoob Mynar who took the ball on the 22 with only a fullback to easily brush off for a fantastic try that indicated the match objectives could be well met. Conversion by Matt Downer.
In the next sequence, the Gaijin burst forward into the Goddamn’s 22. But were caught offside in a ruck for the Goddamn’s to relieve pressure, kicking for touch just short of the 10 meter mark. From the lineout, Joffa Harris spun off the driving maul and was brought to ground but supported by Matt Downer from fly-half. Big Dan Salter drove forward with a nice run up to the opposition 22 but was let down in support and left isolated. The ball was turned over for the Goddamn’s again to kick for clearance.
From the next lineout, Takashi Narita (who would go on to have a great performance) overthrew Sean O’Donaghue with Joffa cleaning up at the back. Joffa took the ball and drove hard with the rest of the forwards mauling behind him. Alas, there was a knock on and again the Goddamn’s were given a chance to clear their lines.
The first scrum of the day was something I had been looking forward to as we had such superior weight. As they so often do though, the local team showed superiority in technique and held their positions well. The Goddamn Number 8 picked up at the back and found a massive gap on the blindside taking the ball well up toward halfway to be tackled by Matt Downer. A ruck ensued with the ball quickly recycled to a Goddamn second rower who again found a massive hole in the defense to be cover tackled by Al Nimmo at the Gaijin 22. The Gaijin were giving easy ground but in Al’s desperate tackle on the big fella the ball was spilled forward and sent to Matt for a clearance kick all the way up to the 10 meter mark.
From the lineout the Goddamn’s sent the ball out right to their backline who were caught at the 22 again, the ball came back left where the Gaijin defense had not regrouped and the same second row lock received the ball in space only to spill it forward and regather well inside the Gaijin 22 to go over the line for a try. Unbelievably the referee missed the blatant error; though this type of “miss” is so common we need to just accept that sometimes that one-eyed refs have a harder time seeing. 7-7 the game was tied up.
From the kickoff the Gaijin forwards rushed up in a line with Garrett Washington trapping the Fullback on the 22 line where he knocked on for a Gaijin scrum. Al sent the ball blind to Matt Downer who passed on to Hitoshi Chihara on the right wing who was wrapped up by the defense. An advantage was being played by the ref as the Goddamn tight-head had not bound in the scrum – 3 points by the boot of Matt Downer right in front of the posts had us back in front by a slim margin. 10-7.
After a huge return kick over half-way from Matt the Goddamns knocked on. From the scrum the Gaijin sent the ball out to the backline but a loose pass from Mr. Downer (who made a few wobbly passes early on) was intercepted by the Number 8 who had an easy run to the line. Suddenly we were behind 10-13 as the conversion was missed. 18 minutes gone.
From the next kickoff, the Goddamn’s tried to run the ball up the touch line but Sean O’Donaghue (who had a stormer) bustled the ball carrier into touch. Sean tapped the throw in from Narita down to Al Nimmo who passed to Matt for an up and under kick. The Goddamn’s felt the pressure and surrendered the ball, immediately then being caught offside for a Gaijin penalty. PSYCHO! From the penalty move Joffa took the ball and crashed through a confused defense with only one feeble tackle to break and we were back in front with the converted try. 17-13.
Joffa then took the next restart and offloaded to Scoob who continued the movement to Al, on to Matt who chipped for Bati Apisai to chase on to. The Goddamn Fullback covered well but was trapped by Bati. His winger supported him but he too was smashed by Garrett Washington and Yoichi Ohira, who started getting more and more involved. A knock on came from the pressure and we had the scrum at the 10 meter line.
The game continued through to around 30 minutes with the forwards working well, offloading and passing between themselves nicely while all the while running forward. Some excellent work by Joe Fisher who always presents the ball safely to his team mates in any tackle situation and by Garrett Washington who was the ever present flanker. Knock-on’s were all too common though and both sides traded possession. Matt Downer, Bati, Yochi Ohira and Hitoshi were all working hard on attack. Defensively Al Nimmo was the standout player, making many cover tackles on the Goddamn forwards marauding around the fringes. Jo Iwasaki was also extremely solid, snuffing out any attack with his cover running and his great tackling. Big Dan Salter was starting to slow down at this stage late in the first half, clearly his ankle injury was affecting him. On came Will Thompson who toiled hard in the tight play.
It was the 38th minute though before the Gaijin would find their way through some scrappy dogged Goddamn defense. The play started at the 15 meter line where the Goddamn’s turned the ball over. Reading the defense, Matt Downer placed a nice chip in behind the opposition backs for a strong chase by Bati and Hitoshi. The Gaijin won the ruck through Joffa’s strong driving play and the play went quickly through the hands of forwards and backs, including Bati, Garrett, Sean, Hitoshi and on to Bati who was caught on the right wing. Joe Fisher arrived to secure the ball with Sean and the ball was sent back quickly to Matt Downer who, with a neat side step, crashed forward to go over in the tackle of two prone defenders. The try was converted for the Gaijin to go up 24-13 and the half winding down.
With only a 2-3 minutes remaining in the half the Gaijin had little time but they did not let the momentum die. A great touch finder from a Goddamn offside infringement quickly saw the Gaijin back on attack. Sean O’Donaghue tapped down to Al Nimmo from the lineout and the ball was flicked inside to Joffa (the standout player of the first half). Unfortunately the ball was lost forward in the tackle and the Goddamn’s would have a scrum and chance to clear the ball for the half. However, sensing an opportunity, the Gaijin pack wheeled the Goddamn scrum and caught one of their players offside. A penalty ensued right in front of the posts for the Gaijin to close out the half 27-13.
A fair amount of congratulatory commentary went around the team during the half time chat and a timely comment by Sean O’Donaghue brought the game back into perspective for the crew: “How about we stop sucking each other’s cocks and telling each other how great we are and get our minds back on the game?” or something to that effect. Good point, I thought. Though momentum was clearly swinging our way, we needed to close the game out with a big score and stop any further opportunist points going to the opposition.
The second half saw plenty of good running from the forwards again, our stalwart prop Takayuki Kitajima was getting busy in the loose with some nice work, ably supported by the work of Takashi Narita and Scoob as well as the loose forward trio of Garret, Joe and Joffa. However not matter how good the support play was there was always a knock on or errant pass that would turn the ball back to the opposition. Fortunately they were doing similarly and play generally stayed in the middle of the field for the first 10-15 minutes or so. One example of such play was a neat run through a gap by Bati, supported by the ever present Garrett Washington who was dumped by his opposite but managed to get the ball to Joe Fisher (also ever present from blindside) and our to Matt Downer who was tackled inside the Goddamn 22. Unfortunately the Gaijin forwards could not free the ball and the scrum was awarded to the opposition for a chance to clear. Which they took.
From an up and under kick by the Goddamn fly-half we gained another opportunity. Though a Al Nimmo could not gather the kick, he knocked it back and Matt Downer returned with his own punt deep into Goddamn territory. Great chasing by Yoichi and Hitoshi (both wingers!) won us a turnover and scrum on their 22 line. At this stage of the match people were tiring fast – especially the forwards who were starting to arrive later and later at the rucks. Possession was being lost and though Scoob was still in fine form, Chris Fearon was brought on for fresh legs and some game time. Rob Paulton also came on for Takayuki shortly after. Taka was also raring to go on but during a blood bin moment, Rob got his chance and got stuck in.
First comment about that first 15 minutes of the second half was that there was a stark difference in possession levels to the final 20 of the first half. We were giving the ball away far too easily and letting the Goddamn’s stay in the game.
Our first break came at the 16 minute mark with a great play from Yoichi Ohira. From a deep clearance kick by the Goddamn’s, Yo jumped up to tap the ball in field rather than let it go out. Somewhat risky we on the sidelines thought but he got it in to Jo Iwasaki (who had been playing extremely well at the back) who split two defenders to offload in the tackle back to Yoichi. Yo then got the ball to halfway and into the hands of Bati Apisai who raced away with Hitoshi ourside him on the left flank. Bati drew the defender and flung a nice pass to Hitoshi who sprinted for the corner and dived over for a nice try, wide out. A nice conversion by Matt Downer and we were up 34-13. Had the Goddamn’s been broken?
From the next kick off Chris Fearon, fired up from the last play, took the ball in and stormed forward. A mean fend saw the opposition Number 8 stiff armed backwards and Chris took the ball into the ruck, allowing Matt to clear with another fine kick. Paulo, who had come on for an inspirational though tiring Joffa Harris, was getting involved in securing the ball in the rucks and added a new sense of urgency. His cover tackling was also on display.
Unfortunately though, despite the added energy, play reverted back to a similar pattern of tired rugby: knock on’s and infringements were commonplace. Play was largely in the Goddamn’s half though and the pressure told. Riki Pitter who played a solid match in the centers, kicked through with Bati Apisai chasing. A ruck was formed outside the Goddamn 22 and one of their forwards was quickly penalized with the yellow card coming out for the repeated infringement of hands in the ruck. With the sinbinning the Gaijin were on the offensive and the penalty allowed Psycho to be used again. The ball this time going blind to Joe Fisher. Joe set a nice ruck 5 meters out and it was Sean O’Donoghue who picked and ran, first wide of the tired defense then straight, splitting two tacklers and going over for a nice and well deserved try. Sean had been working hard all day – tackling, driving and running hard. The try converted by Matt had us up 41-13 and with 20 minutes left it was high time for the bench to come on and refresh the tired legs. Yoshi Sato and Erin Hughes came on for Yoichi and Sean, respectively. Both Yoichi and Sean had played extremely well and could go to the side line proud of their efforts. Adam Shockley came on for Jo Iwasaki also. Like the others, Jo could be proud of his efforts in the first 60 minutes as his defense was superb. On attack his decision making sound and his ability to link with those around him (being an ex-flanker) was great to watch.
Shortly into the next possession the Gaijin were back on attack, pressuring the Goddamn lines. Garrett Washington who had put so much pressure on his opponents all day, picked up a ball at the back of a ruck and burst through the fringes to go hardly touched for a nice try under the posts. Another conversion by Matt and the score moved upward to 48-13.
Whenever the Gaijin forwards threatened they did so in a similar manner. That is, there would be fantastic support play between them, offloads, quick passing, quick recycling of the ball and good interplay between the backs and forwards that would take play 30-40 meters up the field. Around the seventieth minute, some great defense by Paulo, Hitoshi and Bati snuffed out a dangerous looking Goddamn attack on the right flank. The ball was turned over as our lads dragged the winger out. Unfortunately we lost the lineout and a chip put newcomer Adam Shockley under pressure at the back. He cleaned up well, taking the bounce on the run, evading the chasers and kicking to clear. The ball went up to half way and only Hitoshi Chihara was chasing. Lucky for that as the Goddamn winger fumbled and the ball went back for Hitoshi to scoop up and race away for the try out wide. He had picked the ball up at the 10 meter mark and despite complaining of exhaustion for the previous 20 minutes, managed to find the gas to out run the cover defense. Matthew Downer who had played so well, running the backline and asking so many questions of the defense with his running and kicking game, had managed to convert all his kicks except the last. Final score 53-13.
A fine effort and just what the doctor ordered after the last match.
A few of us checked in on our next opposition, the Donkey’s, who were facing Fuji Club. The Donkey’s had looked solid in places with good play by their centers on attack and defence but the Fuji forwards had repeated the same job they did on the Gaijin, mauling their way to win the match with a similar scoreline. Next match sees us face the Donkey’s who are very much an even opponent for TGRFC. Last year we drew in the mud, 0-0, and their scores against Goddamn’s and Fuji are disturbingly similar to our own.
Bring it on.