The Tokyo Gaijin RFC (TGRFC) turned up at Akigase Koen in Omiya knowing that victory would ensure that they had won the Shuto League competition for the 2nd year running. A loss would mean that the Gentle Giants, who the Gaijin had beaten the 24 v 7 the week before, would win the competition on points for and against. Despite winning the Shuto League last year the Gaijin had lost the last game, which didn’t bring the desired closure to the season. So there was a lot to play for. Their opposition, Baku & Clover (B&C), had beaten a couple of ‘tough’ teams and were out to rain on their parade.
Both sides showed that they meant business in the early exchanges with good tackling and excellent rucking forcing some early turnovers. After the early ‘sorting each other out’ period it was the Gaijin who were first to post some points on the scoreboard. They were awarded a penalty just inside the B&C 22 metre line. In a piece of quick thinking, Apisai Bati quickly tapped the ball and went down the blind. This obviously surprised B&C as Bati did a quick ‘in and out’ step and bounced off a few feeble tackles to dot the ball down right next to the corner flag to give the Gaijin a promising start. Matt Downer missed the conversion from out wide to leave the score at 5 v 0.
Soon after, from a penalty for offside, Matt Downer posted a penalty goal to enhance the margin to 8 v 0 in favour of the Gaijin. His booming kicks in general play were also relieving the Gaijin from some sustained pressure by the B&C club. Soon after Downer was again in the thick of the action as he cut through the B&C back line on the edge of the ruck and raced up field. As he came to the cover defense he passed to Joffa Harris who was backing up on the inside. Harris beat the fullback but soon realized that he didn’t have the pace to get away from him or the covering winger. His left-side winger was nowhere to be seen so Harris turned the ball back inside to the flying Yoichi Ohira. Unfortunately a B&C cover defender got his hand in the road to knock the ball on. The referee didn’t see it that way and awarded a scrum to B&C for a Gaijin knock on. Another chance gone begging!
The Gaijin were next to score when Matt Downer, just inside the B&C half, put through a grubber kick to his outside backs to run onto. A defending player stuck out his leg and the ball ricocheted into the hands of the chasing Blake Walker who waltzed down the touchline to score in the corner to completely surprise the B&C players and most of his teammates. It was a super piece of play. Walker also showed excellent handling skills. Downer again missed the conversion attempt from the sideline to leave the Gaijin up 13 v 0.
The Gaijin were on the scoreboard again soon after when Downer made B&C club pay for a ruck indiscretion from midfield, between halfway and their 22 metre line. His successful penalty took the Gaijin out to a handy 16 v 0 lead at halftime.
The halftime score line was not a true indication of the flow of play as the B&C club had defended well, driven the Gaijin off a few of their ruck balls and generally attacked with passion. For the Gaijin, Rob Poulton had made some powerful bursts, often carrying a few opponents along with him like heavy suitcases. Murray Clarke and Will Thompson had toiled away in the set pieces and the loose trio of Paulo de Berriozabal, Dave Kelver and Joffa Harris had had their usual busy games. In the backs, Downer was a solid presence in midfield, big Fijian Joe Nawaqavanua was causing the opposition centers headaches (despite almost gifting them a try with a wild and crazy pass) and Bati Apisai was always a thorn in their side when he came off the wing looking for extra work.
The TGRFC ran on Fijian Saki Naita at the start of the second half and he made an instant impact with his hard running. In fact, the Gaijin had a strong bench, which helped them continue the good work of the first half. What’s more, with the rather relaxed rules of the Shuto League, the Gaijin were able to clear their bench throughout the second half and give all 28 players that turned up game time.
The first try of the second half came form a Gaijin scrum on the opposition 22-metre line. Standoff Matt Downer ran a switch down the blind side and created an overlap for wing Hitoshi Chihara to go over the try line unopposed. With Downer’s conversion the score became 23 v 0 to the TGRFC.
Soon after B&C were penalized for being offside just inside the Gaijin half. With an overlap on the left flank, Murray Clarke quickly tapped the ball and ran into a gaping hole. As the defense closed in he passed wide to a storming Saki Naita who broke his would-be tackler and popped the ball up for left wing Andy Ballard who sprinted from 40 meters out to score in the corner after breaking the tackle of the covering fullback with a nice fend. 5 more points to the Gaijin as Downer again missed the conversion from out wide. Score : 28 v 0.
Soon after a TGRFC try to Fijian Saki Naita, on the left side of the posts midway between posts and sideline stretched the lead to 33 v 0 in the 60th minute (NOTE: All Shuto League Matches have two halves of 35 minutes). Naita had made several powerful surges and had been threatening to break loose every time he touched the ball. He was unsuccessful with the conversion of his own try though.
To wrap the game up with 5 minutes to go and to give the Gaijin a farewell gift Alexis Ottenwaelter broke through a ruck from just inside the opposition’s half, realized there was no fullback at home, and raced away to dot down under the post after cheekily saluting the crowd en-route. It was a fitting farewell to Ottenwaelter who is on his way back to France after just a short stay here in Japan. Saki Naita converted from in front to make the score 40 v 0. This was to be the final result. It was all the more impressive that the Gaijin had not let their opposition score a single point, even when they played 10 of the last 12 minutes with only fourteen men after Paulo de Berriozabal was yellow-carded for one infringement too many. The referee had lost his patience with the flanker who is always pushing the laws to their limits. He was later awarded the Goat of the Match for leaving his teammates underhanded and for blowing a try midway through the second half when he knocked on a metre from the tryline.
Despite a strong start from Baku & Clover Club, the Gaijin Club had completely outplayed them from the 20-minute mark. While the scrums and lineouts were fairly even the Gaijin forwards outplayed their opponents in general play. Rob Poulton was the pick of the forwards with some big hitups and the recent drop in weight is helping the big man get around the paddock more. He was awarded the Man of the Match along with back Apisai Bati, who had looked dangerous every time he went on a charge. Bati also managed to win some ball off the opposition by ripping the ball off the player he had just tackled. Also in the backs, Matt Downer at standoff had marshaled his troops with aplomb and kept the Baku & Clover players backpedaling with a good kicking game (despite a poor goal kicking performance!), Rory Brown was his usual busy self at scrum half, and Fijian centers Joe Nawaqavanua and Saki Naita were damaging out wider. Alaister Nimmo provided some spark from the bench and made a good 20 metre dash that led to Naita`s try soon after.
Captain Murray Clarke was extremely happy with the performance. He later said “Bloody awesome effort for the past few months to win our Back to Back Shuto League title, but also after such a huge Tokyo Cup effort. The past 18 months of rugby for us has been fantastic with a very high winning percentage to our credit. To win the Shuto League this year without a loss is a great achievement and says a huge amount about the squad we have. More than that, I think the fact that we have good players and good “guys” is most important to the club”.
He went on to say “Personally, I am pleased everyone got a run today – even though some had limited time. Fukuda-san played well for his first run for us. TJ did good (sic) and other recent additions to the squad such as Hiro and Amir had a big influence while on the pitch. Saki who travels far to play with us was also a big influence. I love the fact that the new guys – just like the rest of us – all have a real deep passion to play and get on the field so that when they do, I think we gain so much as it is this that has allowed us to kill of our competition in the second half.” Obviously a very happy captain there!
So a comprehensive drubbing to the Tokyo Gaijin RFC! An undefeated season in the Shuto League (6 from 6)! What a way to finish the season.
GO YOU GOOD THING!
SCORE: TGRFC 40 (Apisai Bati 1, Blake walker 1, Hitoshi Chihara 1, Andy Ballard 1, Saki Naita 1, Alexis Ottenwaelter 1 tries, Matt Downer 1/4 conversions, 2 /2 penalties, Saki Naita 1/2 conversions) BAKU & CLOVER 0
MAN OF THE MATCH: Rob Poulton & Apisai Bati
GOAT OF THE MATCH: Paulo de Berriozabal