The Tokyo Gaijin RFC didn’t quite know what to expect when they turned up to play Nerima RFC at the Edogawa riverside field. Nerima RFC was a new entry to the Shuto League last year and immediately won the second division to earn themselves a promotion to 1st Division. So far this season they had beaten Crusaders RFC who are no slouches so the Gaijin knew they would be no pushovers.
After Liam Ramshaw took the kickoff the Gaijin got off to a scrappy start but some individual flair and speed from Nafetelai Helu soon had them on the scoreboard. A potential intercept by Nerima was only just missed and left Helu with some open space down the left flank. He then ran 70 meters to score under the posts. Paddy Watson converted and the Gaijin were out to an early 7 v 0 lead.
Soon after, a loose Paddy Watson pass was negated by a strong run from Sovita Tui, who then managed to get the ball away to Nafetalai Helu who raced 40 meters before he was hauled in by the cover defense. Unfortunately Tui paid the price for his charge with what seemed to be a fairly serious knee injury. Hitoshi Chihara joined the game in Tui’s place.
The Gaijin continued to heap on the pressure with good forward charges and strong scrummaging, and kept Nerima pinned in their own 22 meter area. Thirteen minutes into the game and powerful center Chris Musgrave took the ball one off the ruck and crashed through two tackles to go over from close range. Watson failed with the conversion but the Gaijin lead was now 12 v 0.
In the 17th minute the Gaijin lead was extended even further and it was another lengthy effort. From a scrum just outside the Gaijin 22 meter line the ball was passed along the backline and a sweetly timed pass from Helu put Travis Drury into a hole and he ran 80 meters to score, wrong-footing his opposing winger and fullback along the way. Watson converted to make the score 19 v 0.
The Gaijin went on another long run soon after that covered 80 meters. Chris Musgrave again powered through a hole in the defense and made good meters before offloading to Travis Drury who continued the move. He then dished the ball off to Fabien Dill who was eventually caught by the defense. The Gaijin then earned a scrum 5 meters out from the Nerima line and earned a pushover try to No.8 Takashi Tanikawa. Watson failed with the conversion but the score in the 22nd minute was 24 v 0 to the Gaijin.
The one-way traffic was brought to a halt by Nerima when they scored in the 29th minute. After concerted charges Nerima worked their way from halfway to the try line over a 5 minute period mostly through their forwards. They successfully converted to make the score 24 v 7.
In the 32nd minute a good tackle from Travis Drury on a runaway Nerima player came to nothing when the player managed to pop the ball after the tackle and then it was passed on again to another support player who scored under the posts. The conversion made the score 24 v 14, which it stayed until halftime.
The Gaijin had got out to a handy 24 v 0 lead due to some long distance tries but they would need to muscle up in defense in the second half as their tackling had got a bit sloppy towards the end of the half and Nerima were making good inroads because of it.
In the 13th minute of the second half Kenta Karino, a halftime replacement for Tomoaki Kato at halfback, ran down a large blind side from a scrum and found oodles of space to run 40 meters to score. The conversion was missed by Watson leaving the score at 29 v 14.
In the 21st minute Nerima came back with a try of their own in the corner, but couldn’t convert, making the score 29 v 19.
In the 25th minute Nerima made the game come alive after some dire defense by the Gaijin. The Nerima hooker took a quick tap from a penalty just 10 meters out from his own line and charged forward. He found a yawning hole in front of him and raced downfield. He was eventually reined in by Gaijin fullback Travis Drury but the ball was quickly recycled and they scored next to the posts. The conversion made the score a tight 29 v 26.
The Gaijin knew they had to score next and in the 28th minute of the half, Travis Drury trapped a downfield kick and then ran 60 meters through the defense to score. Watson converted leaving the Gaijin with a 10 point buffer at 36 v 26.
Nerima RFC were not done yet and came back strongly yet again. In the 32nd minute, after numerous aggressive charges, they scored again after a penalty close to the Gaijin line. The successful conversion made the score line read 36 v 33 and set the stage for a tight finish.
Despite strong play and territorial advantage Nerima RFC were not able to breach the Gaijin line again and the Gaijin hung on for a 36 v 33 victory.
At game’s end the Gaijin would have felt relieved. Their strong start and big early lead helped them hold on for the win but Nerima owned the second half. The Gaijin defense in the second half was appalling at times and would need to be much better next game against the Crusaders if they wanted to continue their unbeaten run through the Shuto league thus far.
Standouts for the Gaijin were Travis Drury, Chris Musgrave and Nafetalai Helu.
SCORE: TGRFC 36 (Travis Drury 2, Nafetalai Helu 1, Chris Musgrave 1, Takashi Tanikawa 1, Kenta Karino 1 tries; Paddy Watson 3/6 conversions) Nerima RFC 33 (5 tries; 4/5 conversions)
Man of the Match: Travis Drury