The most anticipated match of the year for both sides came around with both teams grateful that the temperature had subsided after an unseasonably hot September. Clear skies and a light breeze provided perfect conditions for both teams.
The match kicked off with a good level of intensity from both sides, with each team testing the other’s defense without being able to make any decisive breaks. The first points came to the Gaijin after a period of sustained pressure with the Crusaders yielding a few penalties. Eventually, after a penalty five meters out from the Crusaders’ try line, a quick tap and go from Number 8, Hiroshi, led to him crashing over with the first try. Kohei knocked over a simple conversion.
After the kick-off, it was the Crusaders’ turn to exert pressure on the Gaijin, and with a series of bullocking runs, they made major inroads into the Gaijin half. A solid scrum on the 22-meter line was followed by a slick set-piece move, and their outside center cut through the gap to score a slick try, leaving both sides level after a successful conversion. The next 10 minutes were very even with both sides enjoying equal levels of possession but not able to make decisive inroads into either one’s halves. This period of parity was brought to an end by the half-time whistle.
The second half started with both teams showing no signs of letting up. Gaijin displayed impressive resilience and determination as they fought to regain the lead. Their efforts were rewarded with a beautifully executed try that swung the momentum in their favor.
Fly Half Kohei received the ball at first receiver and then sidestepped his way past the first defender, finding himself in some space. He put on the afterburners and beat another two defenders for pace to dive over in the corner. He then coolly added the extras to put the Gaijin up 14-7. With the wind in their sails, the Gaijin started to play more expansively, but this style of play would prove their undoing as the Crusaders snaffled up a loose ball to score a try against the run of play, tying the score at 14-14.
The Gaijin didn’t let this setback take the wind out of their sails. A series of powerful driving mauls gave them good field position, and eventually, Tommo drove one over from close range. Kohei continued his solid kicking performance, adding another 2 points from close to the touchline.
After the kick-off, Gaijin kept the pressure on and were only 5 meters out from the Crusaders’ defense, but a heroic defensive set led to a turnover and then a clearing kick relieved the pressure. Another turnover, from the ball being stripped, meant that the Gaijin were suddenly pinned back in their own half. The Crusaders’ forwards set up a solid platform from a scrum on the 22-meter line, which the backs took full advantage of. A miss-pass followed by a sharp inside step and a few offloads, and the Crusaders were over the try line. A missed conversion meant that the Gaijin led by a whisker with the score at 21-19.
By now, the match was in its last 10 minutes, and the Gaijin threw everything at the Crusaders to try and get out of sight on the scoreboard. The Crusaders were able to soak up this pressure, and a turnover from a knock-on allowed them to relieve the pressure with a good kick, forcing the Gaijin to give up possession. Off the resulting lineout, the Crusaders’ scrumhalf picked from the maul and dummied his way through to put the Crusaders ahead finally, with the score at 26-21.
Off the following kick-off, the Crusaders jinked their way through a few weak tackles, and suddenly it was the Crusaders who were out of sight with a try, leaving them 33-21 on the scoreboard. The match ended with the Gaijin battling on heroically but unable to breach the Crusaders’ defensive line.
At the sound of the full-time whistle, there was despair from the Gaijin and regret for what could have been if not for a 5-minute lapse of concentration. Congratulations to the Crusaders for a hard-fought game of rugby and good luck for the rest of the season.
Result: Crusaders 33 – 21 Gaijin
Article written by Josh Andrade (finally)