On December 18th on a lush, convex playing pitch (or was in convex? Or even concular?!) Tokyo Gaijin?s playing year drew to a close in spectacular fashion. Doronco, a Tokyo cup second division team, promised to be stiff competition and a hard game was anticipated.
Strong starts have been conspicuously absent for the Gaijin in 2004, so It came as a surprise to many, especially the wheezing, heavily ?muscled? Gaijin pack, for the bulk of the opening twenty to be played in the Doronco 22. Joffa Harris and Mauro Sauco saw plenty of ball and the athletic Heats Devlin provided plenty of support at openside. Rucking and Mauling were both committed and efficient, therefore Blake Walker squeezed in his customary injury as play was halted leaving him with rolling eyes and a sore head. Much the same as a visit from the beer monkey eh Blake?.
From the Utopian surrounds of pastoral Ibaraki to the industry~heavy Chiba coast: such is the way of TGRFC. Home for Idemitsu Oil is in the grounds of their refinery, not far from the arse-end of nowhere, and it was here on a sunny autumn morning that we managed to negotiate for 30 minute halves - much to the chagrin of the opposition who had taken one look at Mauro Sauco and Rob Reinebach and requested 20s.
Within 5 minutes, their fear was manifest when Blake Walker - purportedly the stockiest halfback in Japan - scampered away from the back of a scrum, telegraphed a dummy, and ran in 30 metres to score. However, any suggestion of a cake-walk was dispelled over the remainder of the half as Gaijin made things difficult for themselves in the face of unthreatening but honest resistance. To their credit, Idemitsu made the better running as Gaijin sat back and imperiously expected victory to come. Yet despite a promising dart down the wing by Takeshi Takada, Gaijin were sluggish and heavily reliant on strong defence around the fringes (Harris, Reiniebach) and in midfield (Iwasaki, Conlon) to keep Idemitsu's increasingly confident charges at bay.
If the beautiful playing surface set in the leafy surroundings of semi-rural Ibaraki wasn't enough to tip us off that our opposition was going to be a bit good, then two tries in the first seven minutes from our nemesis the rolling maul should have driven the point home. Such was the story of the first 40 minutes. Impeccably controlled line-outs and mauls, resulting in tries as boring to watch as they were excellent in their efficiency.
There's something unnerving about a trip to the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club. It has little to do with their having a strong side (they do), or with the distance of the journey to get there (it's quite far for most of us); rather it's an unmistakeably musty whiff of conceit. Whether that conceit is real or imagined is, of course, something that we can leave to the multi-million-earning clinical pyschologists but seeing as bugger-all clinical pyschologists play footie - and the ones who do probably play for YCAC - it's by the by.
The day was glorious, the pitch was in its customary good nick (there have to be some benefits to immersing oneself in imperiousness, and listening to plummy accents whilst trying to spot the Raj-era safari suits doesn't qualify), and a healthy squad of 15 was primed.