Dateline: 9th September, 2018
Venue: Katsushika Niijuku Mirai Park Sports Field
The referee blew his whistle at 11:00am sharp and the Tokyo Gaijin RFC was off playing their first round of the Shuto League, 2018, against All Jin Jan RFC (AJJ). Looking decidedly rusty after the summer break, short on reserves, and with a few new boys, the Gaijin took quite a while to gel.
The first ten minutes was an arm-wrestle with All Jin Jan holding the territorial advantage but it was clear to see that they would struggle against the Gaijin scrum as they were sent shuffling backwards at all the early set pieces. For the Gaijin there were too many mistakes with dropped ball from seemingly simple passes being the number one problem.
In the 12th minute the Gaijin finally got close to the AJJ line after a good break up the left flank through namely Jermaine Bernard and Yuki Neill. Neill was guilty of failing to feed his support players though when he went for the line twice, as he was tackled, and then another lunge from the ground which saw the ball knocked on. A simple draw and pass or even a pop pass (instead of the lunge) from the ground would have had the Gaijin up 5 v 0. The Gaijin however maintained the pressure through a strong 5 metre scrum just to the left of the posts, No.8 Takashi Tanikawa powered over the line to opening the scoring and Chris O’Sullivan converted to put the Gaijin in front 7 v 0.
For the next 14 minutes play went up and down with both teams guilty of simple mistakes in handling and AJJ being penalized for scrum infractions as they struggled to hold the Gaijin scrum.
In the 26th minute a scrum on halfway led to some individual brilliance from standoff Chris O’Sullivan.
He managed to beat several defenders with superior pace on a zigzag run to put the ball over the line underneath the black dot and then successfully converted to make the score 14 v 0
The Gaijin were celebrating again soon after the restart. O’Sullivan was again the focus of celebrations as he sliced through the defense straight from the first breakdown following the kickoff and evaded the last line of defense with a nice swerve and admirable speed in a 60 metre run to the line. His successful conversion made the score 21 v 0 in the 29th minute.
Just before halftime (NB: Halves are only 35 minutes in the Shuto League), with the Gaijin struggling to keep AJJ out from their own line, the Gaijin had a feed into their own scrum just 5 metres out from their own line. Inside centre Alex Audy made a strong 25 metre run, breaking a few tackles along the way, and then managed to offload to O’Sullivan, who once again showed his excellent pace and raced away to score. With the conversion the Gaijin had moved to a strong 28 v 0 lead at halftime.
It had been a rather scrappy half from both teams. While the Gaijin had a convincing 28 v 0 lead All Jin Jan had had equal amounts of domination. The Gaijin were well ahead on the scoreboard due to the dominance of their scrum and some individual brilliance from a few key players. Chris O’Sullivan had scored 3 of the 4 tries and collected 23 points in the half and was reminded at halftime that the club record was 6 tries in a game (jointly held by Fijians Joe Nawaquavanua and current player Apisai Bati).
Only one change was made with Kosuke Yamamoto joining the front row in place of Joseph Vanualailai.
In just the second minute of the second half outside centre Yuki Neill made a powerful run across field at a 45 degree angle breaking a few tackles and running 40 metres all up, but he was caught by the fullback. Winger Jermaine Bernard crossed from outside to inside and Neill was able to pop a pass to him as he fell. Bernard managed to hold the tricky pass and race away to score under the posts. O’Sullivan again converted and the Gaijin now had a seemingly unbeatable lead of 35 v 0.
Joffa Harris and Glen Amos left the field soon after to be replaced by Drew Mills and Win Irham.
In the 10th minute of the second half All Jin Jan finally got the try they had been so desperately searching for. After a period of sustained attack and territorial advantage they capitalized on a loose pass in the Gaijin backline but failed to convert the try making the score 35 v 5.
AJJ continued to pressure the Gaijin and managed to continue their comeback after some feeble tackling from the Gaijin team. Once again they failed to convert the relatively easy shot at goal leaving the score at 35 v 10.
With the game three-quarters gone, the Yuki Neill and Jermaine Bernard combo came to the fore again for the Gaijin. After a powerful tackle-shredding charge from Neill, he managed to pop the ball as he went down in the fullback’s tackle about 10 metres out and Bernard raced in to score. O’Sullivan tarnished his perfect success rate for the day (admittedly all in front) when he failed to convert the try. The Gaijin lead was now an insurmountable 40 v 10 with time running out for All Jin Jan.
All Jin Jan hadn’t given up though and spent the next 10 minutes in the Gaijin 22 metre area chipping away but a try proved elusive. The pressure was relieved with a break out in the Gaijin backs. Jermaine Bernard chipped infield as he crossed the halfway line. The chip didn’t quite go to plan and mostly just lolly－popped up in the air. Fortunately O’Sullivan had the superior reach and managed to pluck it out of the air in traffic and pop it to halfback Louie Hamilton who raced away to score untouched under the posts. Nick Pavesic murdered the drop goal attempt. Score: 45 v 10 to TGRFC.
With about 7 minutes to go in the game Win Irham was yellow-carded for a ruck infringement as All Jin Jan again threatened the Gaijin try line.
Despite a lot of mistakes the Gaijin managed to hold AJJ out for the remaining minutes and maintain their 45 v 10 lead.
The game WAS NOT PRETTY but as captain Tomohiro Setoguchi said post－match, “A win is a win”. To win by a handy score and play far below your best is an enviable position to be in.
For the Gaijin, Chris O’Sullivan was the standout player. He was involved in many crucial plays, scored 25 points and was a worthy Man of the Match winner. His two centre partners, Alex Audy and Yuki Neill, had slow starts but recovered to make some bullocking, tackle－shredding runs. Jermaine Bernard was always where a winger should be….ranging up in support, which led to his two well-taken tries. Louie Hamilton had a nervous start in his first game with the Gaijin but finished off the game strongly.
In the forwards another new boy in Tom McCullough was the standout with many powerful runs into the defense. He always seemed to break the first two or three tackles. The rest of the forwards should be commended for their powerful scrummaging as they had the All Jin Jan pack constantly going backwards. Even when AJJ managed to get their hook straight to their No.8 in the second half the ball was always sloppy.
With their first full game after two months of inaction over the summer (apart from the odd 10’s game) there was also some expected rust. Tackling needs to be improved as the competition goes on and the teams get invariably tougher. The Gaijin would hope that training and improved communication will help fix this. Handling early in the game left a lot to be desired but got slightly better as the game went on. The forwards, while far superior in the scrum, were often beaten to the ruck, and will have to show more urgency in the future….you can’t score if the opposition keeps taking your ball or the referee penalizes you for not releasing. One glaring observation from the sideline was the lack of team work with certain players guilty of ‘white line fever’. Players were not looking for support or breaking one, two or three tackles then losing the ball instead of using their supporting players. The Gaijin management will be hoping that with a bit more training the rust will disappear quickly and hopefully before their next game against Swift RFC, a newly promoted team said to be ‘fast and fit’.
SCORE: TGRFC 45 (Chris O’Sullivan 3, Jermaine Bernard 2, Takashi Tanikawa 1, Louie Hamilton 1; C. O’Sullivan 5/6, N. Pavesic 0/1 conversions ) All Jin Jan 10 ( 2 tries; 0/2 conversions)
MVP: Chris O’Sullivan
Goat(s) of the Game: Win Irham (Yellow card), Yuki Neill (white line fever)
1. Joseph Vanualailai (Fiji)
2. Tomohiro Setoguchi © (Japan)
3. Tsunaki ‘Don’ Tanaka (Japan)
4. Nikola Pavesic (Croatia)
5. Glen Amos (England)
6. Joffa Harris (Australia)
7. Tom McCullough(England)
8. Takashi Tanikawa (Japan)
9. Loiue Hamilton (Ireland)
10. Chris O’Sullivan (Ireland)
11. Jermaine Bernard (England)
12. Alexander Audy (New Zealand)
13. Yuki Neill (New Zealand)
14, Sean Robinson (Ireland)
15. Ryosuke Okawara (Japan)
Reserves: (16) Kosuke Yamamoto (Japan),(19) Andrew Mills (New Zealand),(20) Win Irham (Indonesia)