What a headliner and what a game. In scoring 55 points the Gaijin not only beat but completely smashed a Donkey’s side that we club had never beaten (despite the close scores over the past 4 years, that include the nil-nil draw in the mud last year). The Donkey’s sneaked in a lone 5 pointer in the final 15 minutes when the game was well lost and the Gaijin took a breather for a brief period. A massive effort was put in from the get-go by the whole team who ran themselves hard, putting their opponents under immense pressure and winning turnovers from the resulting errors. That pressure, coupled with Captain Matt Downer’s clever kicking game saw the Gaijin gain considerable territory and when the ball was in hand they were able to run in some excellent tries.
It was right from the kick-off when the rub of the green (and brown) seemed to go our way as the Donkey’s stalwart center Steve Driscoll kicked short of the 10 meter line. The Gaijin were awarded the scrum feed at halfway and immediately Bati Apisai had the Donkey’s on the back foot. Some good ball carrying and rucking from big Dan Salter, good support and linking by Jo Iwasaki and early chip kicking by first-five Matt Downer had the Gaijin applying pressure in the Donkey 22 but knock on’s let them off the hook. Some great pressure by halfback Al Nimmo had the Donkey halfback second guessing himself and he started throwing wobbly passes to his kicker who had to gather untidy ball before attempting to clear the ball from their lines. One such kick in the first 5 minutes had the Gaijin with their first lineout throw 15 meters out from the Donkey line but even though Dave Kelver took the throw nicely from Toru Kanamori and had us rolling forward, the team lost the advantage and turned the ball over.
With the ball back to mid-field, the Gaijin forwards showed their dominance at the break down, winning a ruck for Paulo Berriozabal to spin off down the blind side with Dave Kelver in support. Frantic Donkey defense banged the ball back and the referee gave the scrum feed to the Gaijin for the knock on. From the scrum Matt Downer put up a high bomb that came down on the opposition 22 but there was no chase from the Gaijin. Suddenly the Donkey backs had space to get clear with an overlap on the left wing but Jeffrey Cutler (playing his first match this year) made a fantastic tackle to bring their winger down. The Donkey’s sent the ball to our right and again the pressure was on, however this time their center slipped on the greasy surface and our forwards piled in for the kill. The ball came out and Joffa Harris roared through some errant Donkey tackles to score the opening try of the match. Easily converted by Matthew Downer, we were up 7-0 in the first 7 minutes. That effort sent a clear message to the Donkey’s that this was not to be an easy match. We were here to play rugby.
Again the Donkey’s messed up the restart and we were back on attack. With the momentum clearly on the Gaijin side, Matt chipped and chased in a great play to pin his man down but he was penalized for not allowing the release and the Gaijin were sent back into their own half. The Donkey’s could not get momentum going and from a ruck at our 22, out came Bati Apisai for a 30 meter burst up the right hand touch line. Support was slow and again the ball went back to the Donkey’s but yet again they knocked on and Matt turned them around immediately with another high kick with chasers. The ball came back to the Gaijin and we were on attack again, this time Matt sent the ball into the Donkey 22 with a deep kick. Their winger and fullback were caught stranded by Sou Nagashima and several forwards who did well to chase. The ball came quickly to the Gaijin and Dave Kelver raced down the blind side to be tackled 5 meters out. The ball came back for Will Thompson to charge toward the line again and from the ruck inside the 22, right of the posts, the Gaijin had a kickable penalty. The Gaijin were now up 10 to nil and momentum looked clearly on our side.
The next major phase of the match however was spent with the Donkey’s hot on attack. We were always wary of their forwards who were scrumming well. Fired up and attacking hard, the Donkey’s received penalty after penalty within our 22 for Gaijin infringements (offside calls mainly). With a need for points to get back in the match and – like ourselves – a need for bonus points in the competition, they kicked for line-outs and opted for scrums time and time again. Fierce tackling by the Gaijin kept them at bay. Al Nimmo featured in some great tackles around the fringe, as did Joe Fisher and there were several key hits by Dave Kelver and Paulo Berriozabal that stood out. The whole Gaijin tight-five (Takayuki Kitajima, Toru Kanamori, Joe Fisher, Dan Salter and Will Thompson) were outstanding in this passage of play, smashing the Donkey rucks back and halting any momentum they could muster. Eventually they spun the ball wide in hope of breaking our back line but immediately a crunching tackle by Jo Iwasaki stopped the movement as he read the play with precision timing. At the following ruck it was Bati Apisai who ripped the ball from the Donkey outside center and the Gaijin were awarded a penalty to kick and clear their lines. As we won the ball back, Paulo and Toru teamed up well to run the ball up the side line and suddenly we were out of trouble. An outstanding effort by the whole team had kept the Donkey’s out.
The first half of the match continued with the Gaijin dominant but errors allowed the Donkey’s to escape. The game was played in both halves but the Gaijin looked the sharper. Tackling was accurate and brutal. As the medic of the day, the author had to cease taking notes and run onto the pitch to assist battered Donkey players on a number of occasions. Their first-five also went off to the blood bin with a bashed nose and he clearly looked shaken. If it was a battle of attrition to come, the Gaijin were definitely going to win it.
The half closed at 10-nil. The Gaijin were clearly the team with the momentum. We had fractured though not yet broken the Donkey spirit with our fierce tackling and high pressure defense. Our attack looked sharp enough and from the side line it seemed it was only a matter of time for the errors to stop and the scoring to start.
Back into the fray the lads went with the knowledge that we needed to close the game out and score 3 more tries to gain a vital bonus point. Immediately the Gaijin attacked with a clever kick from Matt Downer with a chase by Bati Apisai to put their fullback and right winger under pressure. They linked poorly and were forced to kick the ball out for a Gaijin lineout just 7 meters from the Donkey line. Joe Fisher called for “Buddha” and backs entered the maul to push over for the try. Even without the backs, the Donkey maul defense was weak and it was Bati Apisai who cradled the ball as we went over the line for an early score right in the corner. The Gaijin were up 15 to nil.
Unfortunately for our opponents, in the next phase the Donkey playmaker and leader Steve Driscoll was smashed down in the double tackle of Paulo and Dan, twisting his knee horribly. He was stretchered off and with his departure it soon became clear that the Donkey backline lost form, while they also lost the ability to kick accurately for clearance.
On the other hand, our own playmaker was having a storming match. Matt Downer with his neat kicking game to turn the Donkey’s time and time again. Our chasing players were able to trap the opposition to force turnovers. Matt’s running, passing and kicking game was a vital factor in giving our back line space as the defense was always in two minds about whether to rush up and contain Bati and Jo or to be ready for the grubbers and chips that came in behind them.
The pace of the game accelerated at this point and soon after the Buddha try, it was yet again Matt Downer who kicked through with Bati and Jeff Cutler chasing. The bounce came Jeff’s way and he skillfully drew the two remaining defenders to offload a nice pass inside to Bati Apisai who ran in from 30 meters out. Matt Downer kicked. We were up 22-nil.
A nice run by Joffa after the restart saw an offload to Bati who ran the ball over the half way line. The two old-timers had made a bet to see who could score more tries this season and they were both pumped for this game. Again it was a Matt Downer chip with a nice chase by Yoichi Ohira (on at the half for Sou Nagashima) that forced the Donkey’s to kick for clearance. It was sliced badly and with our lineout won by Dave Kelver we mauled forward toward the line. It was Paulo who rolled off the back and drove over for our next 5 pointer. Converted by Mr. Downer we were now out to a 29-nil lead and we had secured our bonus point.
The fifth try came as the Gaijin pressured the Donkey line once more. Consecutive rucks formed and Al Nimmo stole through a gap only to be cut down inches from the line. The ball quickly came back through our dominant forwards and it was Jo Iwasaki who crashed through to the right of the posts for the 5 points. Conversion. 36-nil.
It was clear from this stage that the Gaijin lost their shape. The fast pace, the physicality and the 36 point lead saw us collectively take a breather and suddenly the Donkey’s forwards got themselves up off the ground and started to play rugby. They drove themselves into our half and smashed and crashed at our line. As it did in the first half though, our defense was exemplary and the Donkey’s could not reach the chalk. Some big tackles by the forwards all around but one tackle stood out here by Gazza Dimrymple as he smashed the Donkey openside flanker on a crash ball. Alas though we could not keep up the furious defense and the opposition were justifiably happy to score a consolation try. 36-5.
An overthrow by the Donkey’s on their short line out was collected by Dave Kelver at the back and Matt Downer continued his rather poor habit of passing the ball straight into the hands of the opposition center. Unlike last week this guy was cut down with the ball being turned over at half way. Toward the Donkey 22 we rumbled. Al Nimmo was getting quick ball at the rucks and he flung the ball to Bati Apisai along the 22 line. Bati hopped, skipped and drifted sideways until Chris Fearon gave him a shove in the back: suddenly Bati was through the gap and away under the posts for 7 more points. Assist given to Mr. Fearon. The score was again creeping higher. 43-5.
There were knock on’s by both teams over the next few phases as fatigue began to have its effect. However the Gaijin did not ease up and as we entered the final 5 minutes of the match, it was again the combination of Bati and Matt Downer that sealed another 7 points. From a half way scrum, Al got the ball directly to Bati who beat his man on the outside. Bati ran hard but was cut down 20 meters out, flicking the ball back inside to Matthew Downer who cut back and ran over for a very well deserved try. 50 points!
The final try of the day was really courtesy of Matt Downer’s vision and smart chasing by Yoichi. The Donkey full back had come into the line for a move at half way but they knocked the ball on and Matt cleverly drove a grubber into the open hole behind the Donkey right winger. Yoichi Ohira showed good speed to race onto the ball and beat the cover defense for a try in the left hand corner. 55 points to 5, the Gaijin had not only beaten their nemesis, but had really kicked the Donkey’s Ass.
The entire squad can pat themselves on the back for the effort that has gone in over the past few weeks and this day was a truly outstanding effort. We knew we needed to win well and we knew the Donkey’s were a solid team – a team we had not beaten. 22 players rose to the challenge and the passion demonstrated in that first 40 minutes was immense.
Congratulations to the forward pack for such a strong effort. With the forwards gaining ground the defense is on the back foot and our backs have the space to play their game. With Matt Downer’s bag of tricks and the great chasing of all our guys who want the ball, we are back to playing our game.
The Gaijin line outs functioned very well: credit to Joe and Dave as jumpers and also to the lifters (Takayuki, Will, Dan and Chris). Special mention went to some familiar names: Joffa, Al, Dan, Will, Matt, Joe Fisher, Jo Iwasaki and Bati were all big performers. The sideline crew selected Dave Kelver and Paulo Berriozabal as the Players of the Day for their massive efforts through the first 60 minutes where they featured so regularly in the Kicking of the Ass.
A few were asking what the major difference between the team this year and last year is. Personally I think it is very much that we now have so many players who are willing and ready to take responsibility on their shoulders, stand up to the challenge and want the ball. In years gone by there were too few players making things happen and too many standing around watching those few. The best games we play are when the Player of the Day is a split decision or such a tough decision that any one of 6 or 7 guys could get it. Much like today.
A final mention of “Thank You” to our helpers and team mates who assisted on the side lines for the day. Thank you. Without the help of Yoshihiro Sato, Lonnie, Blake, Big Joe (Fiji), Hiroko (Fisher), Riki Pitter, Jesse Cutler and his lady friend, we would have been berated by those Tokyo Cup official twats and spent the day in red tape. Thanks.
Well done lads. Go you good thing!
Players of the Day: David Kelver, Paulo Berriozabal
Goat of the Day: Yoichi Ohira (for sleeping in and nearly missing the dress check)
1. Joe Fisher (New Zealand)
2. Toru Kanamori (Japan)
3. Takayuki (Japan)
4. Will Thompson (Australia)
5. Dan Salter (England)
6. Dave Kelver (US of A)
7. Paulo Berriozabal (Basque)
8. Jeffey Harris (Convictland)
9. Aistair Nimmo (England)
10. Matthew Downer (New Zealand)
11. Jeffrey Cutler (US of A)
12. Jo Iwasaki (Japan)
13. Bati Apisai (Fiji)
14. Sou Nagashima (Japan)
15. Ken Kondo (Netherlands)
Res: Yoichi (Japan), Lawrence (Australia), Chris (New Zealand), Gaz (Scotland), Erin (USA), “Buck” (Uganda)