Feb 21, 2009: The Tokyo Gaijin fielded a squad with well over a dozen forwards but no back reserves to face a largely unknown Setagaya (champions of their name-sake league). The weather was warm and sunny with a bit of wind and the Gaijin were confident of a solid result. A few new faces arrived including hooker Barry Amos-Yeo from the UK, Mike Crafton from the US who is in Japan temporarily and Saiki #2 the Fijian hooker who was borrowing someones ill-fitting boots. Two sets of props was more than enough and a plethora of loose forwards meant a bundle of energy available for the entire match, or so we expected.
The Gaijin assembled early to avoid the weak preparation that had affected us in our last turn-out. With the aim was to bang up the Setagaya forwards as quickly as possible and give them the jitters early on, the opening spell looked promising as the Gaijin kicked off and put the pressure on for an early turnover.
The ball was quickly moved from the ensuing scrum and through several phases it was Bati Apisai who made a huge break straight up the middle of the defense taking the ball up 20 or 30 meters in one play and being prominent in several other early touches that eventually led to him opening the try count. An easy conversion for Matt Downer meant the Gaijin were up and confident by 7-0 after just 4 minutes.
Setagaya were not to be deterred though and their kick off was precision point just over the 10 meter line where a Gaijin prop stood and left the ball for a Setagaya forward to crash on to. They were able to maintain that possession for several phases and eventually had the Gaijin defending their line. There were several penalties that we deserved but were unlucky on one occasion where the ball seemed to have come out the back of the ruck for our forwards to grab, though the referee awarded an off-side foul and Setagaya were able to come out of our half with a deserved 3 points.
In reply, yet another line break by Bati led the team up field. He unfortunately did not pass out to his outside backs in an overlap, but thankfully made plenty of ground on his own through his stop-start stepping and powerful stiff-arm fend, leading us into the Setagaya half. Quick recycling of the ball led us up over the 22 line and with an infringement awarded the Gaijin opted for the safety of a penalty kick from Downer. The Gaijin were up 10-3.
Later in the first half the teams traded tries, with the Gaijin scoring a nice try through Will Thompson. Will was able to drive his way over the line and in a heap of bodies, from the bottom of a ruck, one hand on the ball firmly grounded behind the try-line, the other hand groping Toby’s groin, he scored. Will seemed very happy, and the try was a good one as well. The Gaijin were beginning to dominate and were now up 15-3 with the conversion missed by Downer, who was still unsure about Mr. Thompson.
Setagaya came back and their try seemed to come after a slew of penalties awarded against the Gaijin and though no-one seems to recall the actual details, it was on the scorecard. Possibly memories were numbed by the frustration level that grew as the game went on.
As Captain, the author had to talk to the referee on several occasions (met with a blank face) to find out why he was making certain calls and to draw his attention to the illegal handling of our ball in the rucks, or for Setagaya forwards simply not rolling away. It was the usual suspects who lost their calm within the Gaijin ranks and despite the referee’s ignorance, we need to learn to adjust to the way our referee’s call it. Later as the game wound down it was a different player (another usual suspect) who picked up the frustration baton and began to curse the state of the officiating. Though the author agrees the calls were bogus on a good many occasion, this is definitely behaviour we need to minimize as the season progresses. It loses us territory and ultimately points. On this occasion, no-one has a copy of the game sheet and it “seems” we went into the half with the Gaijin up 15-10. It must be said though that the Gaijin were feeling confident.
All in all the first half was a messy affair with the Gaijin forwards seeming to fall asleep at the wheel. No-one was hitting rucks and a lack of commitment to the loose ball was evident as the Setagaya forwards were throwing themselves at every chance they got. From our perspective, at least Toby Gallagher was stealing a fair amount of the opposition ball and our line out was dominant, as was the scrum. Andy Ballard out on the right wing was having a solid match and is showing improvement in his overall game week in and week out. Al Nimmo was playing a great match at center and Blake Walker combined well with him as the game went on.
Chris Lucas has already gone off with an injury and a set of fresh faces came into the forwards over the first 10 minutes of the second half. Setagaya were starting to use their possession by moving the ball wide and attacking away from our forwards. Through this early second half period, Andy Ballard made a n excellent tackle to save a certain try as did Matt Downer, who had played a fantastic match so far.
It was hoped the fresh legs could bring about some scoring and though we looked more composed, it was not until mid-way through the second spell when the Gaijin made some telling breaks. The first came from a mis-communication at the back of the scrum, though the end result was that Al Nimmo recovered brilliantly to spot a slip of a gap with our wheeling scrum to blast past the Setagaya open-side flanker and take off on a 20 meter burst. In the tackle he passed beautifully inside to Toby Gallagher who raced up field for another 10 meters before getting another great pass inside to Clarke who continued the run only to have his pass to Mike Crafton knocked down by a desperately chasing Setagaya player. Having been one of the post half-time substitutions, Mike was already having a whale of a game and if this pass had gone to hand he may well have had a try, though as it stood the Gaijin had moved from outside their 22 to more than 20 meters into Setagaya territory.
The next phase saw Blake Walker have a big run up the right hand side and from the ruck the ball was popped to a charging Chris Fearon who had scored what would be for witnesses, one of the best tries scored this season. It was not for flair but for the comedy-like manner of the defense trying to stop this Waikato dynamo as he sprinted (and he is our fastest prop by far) through the first tackle and had two other would-be tacklers liter
ally throw themselves at his feet, slowing him enough so that he was standing at the try line looking down at them lying prone and defeated before he threw himself over the line to score under the posts. The photo’s say it all. Classic stuff from the Kiwi prop who got the Gaijin to the point where we felt dominant enough with possession and an increasing lead of 22-10.Unfortunately toward the final stages the Gaijin again let things slip somewhat and allowed Setagaya to pin us in our own half. The Setagaya forwards on one occasion were allowed to overwhelm our defense to score a nice try under the posts. Some outstanding tackling by Matt Downer almost saved us once again, but it was not to be and the scoreline was suddenly looking shaky at 22-15.
Later, the Gaijin took another 3 points from a Matt Downer penalty kick and then it was again Vice Captain Matt who stepped up to extend the lead late in the match. It really was a piece of individual brilliance with Matt receiving the ball at stand off around the half way mark and rather than his usual mix of running, passing and high kicks, he spotted the Setagaya full back out of position and deftly chipped over the defense, chasing and collecting the ball on the bounce for a great try beside the posts. Self-converted, the Gaijin were up by 32-15, which was to be the final score of the day.
Overall, this was a pretty disappointing match for many of the senior players who felt that we had let the team down through the first 50 minutes or so. A number of us had not stepped up during the first half and we had allowed Setagaya to stay in the game for far longer than they really deserved – even letting them back in the match with their try. Fair play to them but we should have shut them down in that first half.
Stand-out performances included Andy Ballard at wing and fullback, Bati Apisai who was so strong especially in the opening spell, Al Nimmo at center and half-back, Blake Walker at center, Matt Downer at First-Five/Stand-Off/Fly-Half (whereever you happen to come from), Toby Gallagher at open side who showed good speed and skills all day and newcomer Mike Crafton who had some storming runs and tackled hard through-out the second half.
Final Score: TGRFC 32 (Bati Apisai, Chris Fearon, William Thompson, Matt Downer tries, 3 conversions and two penalties), Setagaya 15 (two tries, one conversion, one penalty).
Man of the Match: Jointly awarded to Matthew Downer and Andrew Ballard.
Goat of the Match: The tight five for the first half, proudly represented by Chris Lucas and Chris Fearon in the drink off.
1. Chris Lucas (Australia)
2. Barry Amos-Yeo (England)
3. Takayuki Kitajima (Japan)
4. Will Thompson (Australia)
5. Murray Clarke (c) (New Zealand)
6. Orlando “Ronnie” Alvarez (Mexico)
7. Toby Gallagher (Ireland)
8. Paulo Berriozabal (Basque)
9. Toru Kanemori (Japan)
10. Matthew Downer (New Zealand)
11. Bati Apisai (Fiji)
12. Alistair Nimmo (England)
13. Blake Walker (New Zealand)
14. Yosuke Togo (Japan)
15. Andy Ballard (England)