On October 26th the Tokyo Gaijin RFC (TGRFC) had a date with the Microsoft Sharks. A non-Shuto League match played under Shuto League rules allowed the club to get non-regular members more field time. With regular captain Murray Clarke resting a broken nose and Will Thompson also out, this allowed Takeshi Ochiai and Erin Hughes to get maximum time in the second row. Former hooker Mike Tokue, making a comeback (at prop) to rugby after 10 years out of the game, was starting at loose-head and Sou Nagashima got a rare run on the blind-side flank, his favorite position (he’s a bit of a handyman and plays wing and hooker with equal aplomb). The Microsoft Sharks dressed nicely and looked the part. Apparently they used to be a company team and were on trial by the Shuto League as possible new entrants to the league next year, and they were also trialing to see if the standard of the league suited them. I think the TGRFC were the Guinea pigs! Maybe they want Mr. Gates or someone to give them money for playing. That would be nice but they have a fair way to go before that happens and first up was the Tokyo Gaijin.
The Gaijin were led by long-serving dynamo Apisai Bati and ever-steady Yoichi Ohira at first-five, while the regular skipper and VC watched from the sidelines. Microsoft kicked off into the waiting arms of Kevin Rebay who smashed it up along the right wing and formed a ruck. Quick ball saw Apisai Bati make a nice 40 metre break with direct running but the last pass to his supports on the inside was almost intercepted but luckily for the Gaijin it was knocked on. From the following scrum big Fijian Joe Nawaqavanua, at outside centre, smashed through several tacklers to make another 30 metres. The ball was recycled quickly to Adam Shockley, who chipped ahead, but the ball ended up going too deep and out of play over the dead ball line before any of the chasers could retrieve it. It was a very strong start from the Gaijin with Yoichi Ohira, rarely spotted at standoff for the TGRFC, dishing out great ball for his outside backs and both Fijian centres making easy yards out wide.
The Sharks were able to withstand the initial onslaught without their line being breached and worked their way into the Gaijin 22 after a Dave Kelver ruck infringement.
Kelver was able to redeem himself though by winning the ensuing lineout, from which Kevin Rebay went straight through the defence and made some good ground before attempting to offload as the cover defence swarmed around him. The ball went to ground but fortuitously bounced in front of a chasing Gaijin player, Adam Shockley, who toed it ahead. Shockley won the race to the ball but was beaten by a nasty bounce but Apisai Bati, who was close behind, managed to ground the ball and open the scoring for the Tokyo Gaijin RFC. With Shockley`s conversion the Gaijin were up 7v0.
Soon after, Kelver was again penalized for a ruck infringement. The ball failed to find touch and was taken by fullback Shockley who booted it up field. Kelver was the first man to hit the attacking runner but was again penalized for being in front of the kicker. It wasn`t a good start for Kelver but in his defense he was playing with a bad case of the flu. Besides, he was causing no end of trouble to the Sharks lineout.
Microsoft came back quickly though and attacked through a very well drilled back line with crisp and accurate passing from their fly half hitting his centers well. The outside center had a great game and made a number of telling line breaks that put the Gaijin under pressure, though the tackling of Shockley at fullback and Shin Okazaki on the right wing was solid and saved a number of potential tries. The Microsoft Sharks appeared to have their act together. With their backs handling well and several of their forwards crashing the ball up, they began to put pressure on the Gaijin.
However it was the referee who started to overplay his control and award a series of scrum feeds to Microsoft despite them having a flimsy ‘ownership’ of the ball at best and the ball even appearing to be coming out the Gaijin side of the ruck. He then began to use the long arm and march the Gaijin back for infringing in the rucks. The Gaijin failed to retreat quickly enough and succeeded in giving away additional territory to a fired up opposition. Even as yours truly manned the touchlines, my 10 meters was over-ruled by the referee who did not even look at my marker to give the Sharks yet another penalty. He also penalized Adam Shockley for coming offside in what from my view was an outstanding piece of defense. Adam made a ball and all tackle on his man getting his arms around the ball and ripped it clear – without leaving his feet. As per usual, the Gaijin started to get frustrated by this refereeing and personally, I admit, I was not exactly happy with it and made a few comments as such to the “Assistant Referee” (a Referee`s Committee Rep; was the ref on trial too?), as it was likely him “helping” the guy with the whistle. With some added input from the bench, we eventually agreed to tone it down, though our protests I believe did have some impact late in the game on a few decisions by the assistant ref standing meters from us. We must admit though, especially in that first half, in many cases the Gaijin were certainly guilty of infringement, but it was certainly not a one-way street.
During the first spell, the Gaijin forwards who were repeatedly penalized began to show signs of frustration and started to pound the Sharks with some vigorous tackles and off the ball intimidation. The Western Europeans in the squad were taking the lead with Kevin Rebay, Paulo de Berriozabal and English prop Rob Poulton making some pounding tackles. It showed as Microsoft made mistakes in handling at close quarters, turning the ball over. Barrel-chested Poulton absolutely hammered the opposing right side winger in one such tackle. What looked like a brilliant tackle from a by-stander’s point of view was penalized by the referee for being a shoulder charge (or was it a chicken wing? – to use rugby league terminology). The guy bounced off him so quick that Rob couldn’t possibly wrap his arms around him.
The Microsoft Sharks looked strong on the left side as they attacked with crisp back line movements. Shin Okazaki was called on a few times to make try-saving tackles. On one of these occasions Okazaki snuffed out a certain try by making a ball and all tackle on the attacker, who had a man outside him and no-one in front of him. Okazaki then got to his feet and stole the ball. Unfortunately the referee saw it differently and awarded a penalty to the Sharks believing that the offender had played the ball from the ground.
The game continued to flow freely, when the referee allowed it to, with thrust and parry from both sides. There was a big run by Joe Nawaqavanua but unfortunately the last pass went loose. Luckily the referee spotted an infringement and awarded a penalty to the Gaijin. Captain for the day, Apisai Bati, tapped quickly and charged at the line but was caught just short. From the ensuing ruck, Kevin Rebay with legs pumping, had a charge and was also pulled down by the 4 tacklers hanging off him but then got up and had another crack. Diminutive hooker Toru Kanamori came out of the melee with the ball and dived over the try line. The referee chose to blow his whistle and penalize Rebay for getting back to his feet after the tackle without releasing the ball. It was a close call but I think the referee got this one right! It was hard luck for Rebay who had almost powered through the entire Sharks pack by himself.
The Sharks scrum also began to wobble at times and in the second half the referee stepped up to penalize Paulo (Western European #1) for screwing the scrum all by himself. Again, saliva and expletives flew.
Soon after, yet another turnover at the tackle allowed the Gaijin to ease the pressure through Yoichi Ohira. He had created space and chipped over his opposition on a number of occasions throughout the half, though this time he faked to kick and ran hard through the on-coming defenders. His clean break took him through the centers and rushing flanker. As he approached the fullback, and spoiled for choices with Apisai Bati on his inside and Joe Nawaqavanua on the outside in support, he dummied and shimmied to fool the fullback and turned on the speed to race away from the covering wingers and score under the posts. It was a great 70 metre individual effort and candidate for ‘Try of the Year’. Amazingly it was here that the referee stepped in again. The conversion by Shockley appeared clearly enough to me (the touch judge) to curl inside the left upright and I raised my flag. The opposition touchy must not have raised his (I wasn’t looking) but the referee called it dead. I asked the opposition fellow what his call was and he agreed it went over. WTF? I left it and figured to raise this at the end of the match. The Gaijin were in front 12 v 0.
As for the opposition, incredibly the Sharks skipper opted every time to take scrums or to go for the line out, even when he had highly kick-able chances. The Gaijin lineout with Dave Kelver and Takeshi Ochiai jumping, were able to disrupt and steal a good portion of the Sharks ball and while the scrum struggled a little in the second half, the Sharks were not dominating and really gained little from these decisions over much of the later first half.
Eventually however, after a series of penalties for offside (I guess that shows that the Gaijin were super keen!) and a good line out from the Microsoft lads, weight of numbers got them their first try. With the Gaijin outnumbered on the left, the Sharks were able to get one of their centers across in broken play out on the left flank, where a try had been looking ominous for a while, for them to peg back the score. The successful conversion made the score 12 v 7 to the Gaijin and they just managed to hold this lead until halftime, after fullback Adam Shockley hit a breakaway attacker with a strong tackle and caused a turnover of the ball and the Gaijin were able to recover their composure.
The half time break had everyone feeling quite confident about our abilities. There was plenty of chatter about a referee who was out of touch with reality but that soon calmed to focus to the positives of what was happening on the pitch. The forwards were working well and the backs looked dangerous throughout. Defense was generally very sound and and on the whole, it was clear that we could take this game if we kept up the pace. Mike Tokue had done well in the front row considering it was his first game in 10 years and Kevin Rebay was leading the forward pack well. The backs were all on fire and it was only good defense from Microsoft that had kept the score line so low.
Oh, yes, and that fella with the whistle!
The second half got under way with our kick and immediately the Sharks were on the attack. Again though, our defense withstood the clean passing of the Microsoft backline with some great tackles going in by Shin Okazaki, Bati Apisai and Matthew Downer (replacement at the half, moving into Inside Center and Bati to wing). The pattern of the match continued with the referee making more interesting calls.
The Sharks scrum also began to wobble at times and in the second half the referee stepped up to penalize Paulo de Berriozabal (Western European #1) for screwing the scrum all by himself. Again, saliva and expletives flew.
Frustration escalated. Western European #2 (Kevin) threw his toys and walked off the pitch when he was called for a knock on when he was tackled early on a line break. It was too much for our Frenchman and he stormed off the field calling for a substitution, knowing he was likely for some ribbing and Goat Award.
Much of the second half saw the Gaijin on attack but unable to break the Sharks line. With their lineout being a 50:50 affair, the Sharks continued to opt for the scrum as they had a slight upper hand. Continually the #8 picked and drove. Repeatedly, the Gaijin halfback, South African Rory Brown, took him down immediately.
While the Sharks did not get any kickable penalties in the second half, the Gaijin did. On several occasions the Gaijin tapped and ran, and made every effort to breach the Sharks line only to be repelled. Eventually Matthew Downer opted to kick for the 3-points on a penalty wide out just over the 10-meter mark. It missed. However, he followed it up very shortly after with another rangy kick that sailed over to stretch the Gaijin lead to 8 points; 15 v 7.
To their commendation the Sharks never gave up and worked hard all day. Towards the end of the game they were rewarded with a try from a very simple and very clever penalty move. The penalty was given after Joffa Harris, who came on for the angry Rebay, was screaming “No release” for the referee’s benefit as he tried to pull the ball off the tackled player lying on the ground with a buddy or two off their feet. After three or four screams opposition players quickly enveloped Harris. He was still struggling to pull the ball off the player on the ground as the referee came charging in with his whistle. His screams had fallen on deaf ears and the referee decided to penalize him.
The Microsoft halfback took a quick tap and clearly knocked it on but the referee decided to be kind and give him another chance. The half back – who had played a strong match – tapped again and looked to pass to his oncoming fatties – props, locks and what not. The Gaijin defense rushed at the big boys looking for some collision time and no one looked after the halfback. Joffa Harris, miffed at the earlier poor decision, slipped off the tackle and the halfback deftly stepped one would be tackler and dashed through the Gaijin defensive line to out sprint the cover defense and score 20 meters left of the posts. Nice move and nice score. Suddenly the game was alive again. Gaijin 15 – Sharks 12.
The closing stages were tense but it was the Gaijin who raised the pace. It became very clear that for the final 8 minutes the Sharks were lacking additional firepower and their bench was not up to the same level as their starting crew. Matthew Downer opted again to take a penalty as the half wound down, largely with the Gaijin winning possession and territory. He was successful. A tough match ended 18-12 for a Gaijin win and something to be very pleased about as everyone had done such a great job.
Blood was spilled and a few bodies ached but all in all it was a good positive game with some great running rugby, as well as some good old-fashioned bruising up front. Bati Apisai – Captain for the day – was his usual busy self, involved in so much attack and all across the park. Yoichi Ohira also had a superb game after stepping in to the standoff position, to pip the hard working Kevin Rebay for the Man of the Match Award. Locks Erin Hughes and Takeshi Ochiai had solid games and Rory Brown had a fantastic game behind the scrum.
Score: TGRFC 18 (Apisai Bati 1, Yoichi Ohira 1 tries, Adam Shockley 1/2 goals, Matt Downer 2/3 penalties) MICROSOFT SHARKS 12 (2 tries, 1/2 conversions)
Man of the Match: Yoichi Ohira
Goat of the Match: Kevin Rebay
1) Mike Tokue (Scotland/Japan)
2) Toru Kanamori (Japan)
3) Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)
4) Erin Hughes (USA)
5) Takeshi Ochiai (Japan)
6) Dave Kelver (USA)
7) So Nagashima (Japan)
8) Kevin Rebay (France)
9) Rory Brown (South Africa)
10) Yoichi Ohira (Japan)
12) Lonnie Childress (USA)
12) Apisai Bati (c) (Fiji)
13) Joe Ｎａｗａｑａvａｎｕａ (Fiji)
14) Shin Okazaki (Japan)
15) Adam Shockley (USA)
16) Rob Poulton (England)
17) Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)
18) Joffa Harris (Australia)
19) Matt Downer (New Zealand)
20) Blake Walker (New Zealand)
21) Jo Iwasaki (Japan)