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Gaijins Back in Manila 2023

After 4 long-suffering years of Covid and quarantines, international Rugby 10s tournaments are back on the agenda. The TGRFC, after a successful Tour at the Bangkok 10’s in February where they ended up as Plate winners, decided to enter the Veteran’s Division (Over 35’s) at the Manila 10s to appease some of their older brigade who just don’t have the legs for the open-age division anymore. 

Calls were put out around the world to see if any of the Gaijin diaspora were interested. Despite a lot of “Maybe next year” and “I’ve always dreamed of this but not this year” responses the team managed to assemble 14 guys in Manila ranging in age from 35 to 64. It was a mixed bag of battle-hardened Gaijin veterans from all over the globe with only one newbie, Lola, who looked very stylish and attracted attention everywhere she went in her lovely kimono and wig.  The TGRFC were looking to dominate both on and off the pitch. We had Terrorist over from Basque country, Geisha joined us from Croatia, Worm and Criminal came over from Australia and Killjoy made the jump from Singapore to join 9 guys coming from the Motherland. Worm hadn’t played rugby for 7 years and was itching to get back out on the paddock. The two oldest players in the squad probably having 40 overseas tours between them. 

The Gaijin have a storied tradition at the Manila 10’s. They have participated in 14 tournaments, won the bowl in 2010 (two members of the current touring squad were part of that win), won the Most Festive Team twice (they stopped giving this award after we won twice in a row), and have been invited to other tournaments on the strength of our play at this event. We are also well known in Makati due to our tour dress. The Gaijin also have a rich history of participating in SEA tours such as Hong Kong 10’s, Phnom Penh 10’s, Bangkok 10’s, Beijing 10’s and tours to Seoul, South Korea. And long may this history continue!

After a team get-together in tour kit on the Friday night and a late night of partying the Gaijin were thankful for the later starts in the Veteran’s Division. After a good breakfast for some and a rushed 10 minutes for some of the late-night partyers, it was taxis out to Alabang Country Club. First up was British School Manila. These guys looked decidedly young and well-drilled. Being locals they were probably home in bed the night before just as the Gaijin were kicking off their night. The British School were dominant from the get-go with the Gaijin struggling to get out of their own half. By the fulltime whistle the British school had chalked up 4 tries to zero. Was it the weather? Was it dehydration? Was it the sun in their eyes? Probably a whole bunch of obvious factors. The British School Manila went on to sweep all before them and win the Vets Division. It was a cracking game but it was back to the drawing board for the Gaijin. It was too early for beers, so it was time for a few durries.

In the second game of the pool, the Gaijin were up against Port Moresby Fisspots. The Gaijin warmed up well and looked good running from the tents onto the field. They threw the ball from sideline to sideline, looking dynamic. The interchange between backs and forwards was top notch. They won the game 20 v 0 on forfeit. Too easy!

In the final game of the day, the Gaijin went up against the SCC Growlers (Singapore Cricket Club). The Gaijin were determined to learn from their previous loss and value the ball more. A strong start had them gaining territory with crash balls up the middle with Tomo Setoguchi and Nik Pavesic prominent. Hitoshi Chihara and Damien Naughton were making half-breaks on the edges of the ruck but the breakthrough try wasn’t coming and a mistake would invariably undo all the good work. Just like in the morning game, it was on the edges that the Gaijin were found wanting and the Growlers would race away for two tries to wrap up the game.

Obviously after a day out in the hot sun playing rugby takes a lot out of a man. We are not robots, we are human. (Yes, even you Worm!) We didn’t want to look like dry, shrivelled up sausages, so we had to rehydrate. So, it was a few beers at the field, back to the hotel for a quick shower, dinner at some Spanish restaurant, then a night of drinking. Just what the doctor ordered? No! Clever move? Probably not!

The next morning the team gathered in the hotel lobby looking bright-eyed and bushy tailed. This is called artistic license or overstatement. After arriving at the field and getting into a warm-up the boys looked a lot better than they did in that lobby. The Gaijin figured they had learned from their losses yesterday and had a steely resolve to take the win in the quarter final, or else it was death and dishonour. They started strongly and spent the first 4 minutes with the majority of the possession and territory. The boys were strong ‘up the guts’ and spent a few minutes inside the Taipei Silverbacks 22 (that’s an area on the field, not a person!!). Hitoshi Chihara went very close and then Nic Pavesic picked up the loose ball and dived over the try line but the referee ruled that Chihara had knocked on. A yellow card followed for Pavesic soon after and this seemed to take the wind out of the Gaijin sails. Once again, it was on the edges that the opposition made inroads (or outroads if you wish) and the Gaijin lacked the pace to keep up. In no time at all The Taipei Silverbacks had scored 4 tries and the Gaijin had crumpled in a heap.

It was a disappointing end to the tournament but on the bright side, the benefit of being knocked out early was  the opportunity to rehydrate. The esky full of beers looked inviting on this baking hot day. And so it was to be, an evening of watching the superior teams knock each other out until the finals while drinking San Miguels and smoking durries. The camaraderie and banter was enjoyed by all. That was until the kangaroo court where everyone snitched on each other, and punishments were meted out. 

While we did not set the rugby field on fire, we had a great time. It’s not always about winning, it’s about participating and having fun. They say a fine wine keeps getting better with age. The boys could not be compared with fine wine! While most of the team have deft rugby skills and good rugby brains, sometimes the body doesn’t, or can’t, do what you want it to as you age. But the commitment and passion for rugby – some might even call it a disease – is still clearly evident. If I had to pick an MVP I think most would agree it was either Nik Pavesic in the forwards or Damien Naughton in the backs.

What the squad lacked in size, fitness and general rugby ability was more than made up for in enthusiasm at the local drinking holes, milk bars, eateries, and post card shops.

Thanks to Killjoy, Lola, Sukebe, Wallet, Criminal, Worm, Terrorist, Homeless, Hazuki, Pitcher, Catcher, Chino, Geisha & Kamala. Good effort and well-done boys. All good tourists, every one of you.

Will we be back next year? I think the boys that went would gladly put their hands up again – to make amends on the field but also to enjoy each other’s company. There was also enough interest from outside the group that went. So, see you next year Manila when the pilgrimage continues.

We could not have participated in this tournament without the tireless work and organizational skills of Tomo Setoguchi, so a huge THANKYOU to Tomo. A big thanks also to our sponsors West Club United, SAS3 Trading and Nasnos. And a big thanks to the boys who came from outside the Motherland to expand the squad size.

Also, we are forever grateful to the Manila Nomads Rugby Club for giving us the honour and pleasure of participating in a well-run rugby tournament for the older folk …….and making ourselves look silly and feel old.

Article Written by: Joffa ‘Criminal’ Harris

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