Date: March 6th, 2011
Superman, a team that The Tokyo Gaijin were only too familiar with having played them last year in the Tokyo Cup and in the corresponding fixture two years ago, were once again the opposition for the Champions' League Final. The game was to be played on a mild spring afternoon at Yanokuchi and pre-match spirits were high within the Gaijin camp as the team had notched a couple of comfortable victories in the weeks prior.
However, those that had been with the club for a couple of years or more knew that the pleasant weather would not soften the task that lay in waiting. Indeed, Superman had beaten the Gaijin on the last two occasions and they have always been a powerful, well-drilled team (they train twice a week which is triple the number of times the Gaijin train..). Our team's aspirations to win this game were further hindered by a long and increasingly disconcerting list of absentees amongst the forwards. Key players from last year such as Simon Palm, Tomo Togo, Tsukasa Takasugi, Warren Adamson, Dave Richards, Jesse Cutler, Alex Glover, Andy Ballard and Bati Apisai were unavailable for this difficult fixture.
For reasons unknown to the writer of this article, Henry Bird decided to come to this game dressed as a superhero with cape and all. His shenanigans (he was warming-up with his cape on) resulted in cries of "Gaijinman" from the bemused children who were enjoying a barbecue nearby. He was also accompanied by his Lois Lane who he had chatted up the night before at the Shuto League Awards Party. Nonetheless, The Tokyo Gaijin were hoping that they would catch Superman on an off-day (without cape.. to continue the pun).
Early on in the first half, both teams were making uncharacteristic errors and the match was disjointed and scrappy. The scrum was noticeably stable with the front row of Chris Lucas, Liam Ramshaw and Kaku Kato, playing his first game for the Gaijin, holding their ground against a meaty Superman pack. Initially, it did seem as though Superman were human after all. A determined kick chase by Henry almost resulted in a try against the run of play. Al and Toshi were orchestrating a solid defensive effort from the backs. In stark contrast with the forwards, the backs were benefiting from continuity and familiarity. Hitoshi and Joe Iwasaki tackled hard as usual, Bryan O' Brian and Ikuo Fukuda were covering well. Henry was busy and disruptive.
Unfortunately, Superman were to score the first try of the game via a rolling maul off a lineout near our 20m line. Their massive pack ploughed through despite the Gaijin forwards' best efforts. The ease with which Superman scattered the Gaijin forwards seemed to stun a unit used to having the advantage. A quick fix of Kryptonite was necessary to shift the momentum towards our team but instead Paulo was to provide the GOAT moment that led to another Superman try barely a minute after the restart. Paulo seemed to mistime his jump when dealing with a high clearance kick and with no one around him, he inexplicably swatted the ball backwards. The chasing Superman No. 8, a player that had punished the Gaijin in the past, latched onto the loose ball and ran in for the try untouched. 14-0 after 20 minutes.
After Superman had doubled the lead with this converted try, the rest of the half was gradually played at their pace and the Gaijin had little opportunity to attack as they were camped in their own half. Defensively, our team held firm with the forward combo of Dave Kelver, Paulo de Berriozabal, Rich O'Shea and Shin Nakamura in particular, tackling relentlessly. It was clear, with the opposition pressure intensifying, that our forwards' energy-levels were being sapped and frailties were being exposed in the set-pieces. Liam was struggling to hit our jumpers in the lineouts and the scrum was beginning to buckle too. Paulo was penalized near our try-line for not rolling away and the Superman scrum drove the Gaijin scrum backwards for a simple touch down in the corner. The conversion was missed to make the score 19-0. Against the run of play, a rare foray into their half resulted in a welcome Gaijin try scored by Big Joe. Toshi, who was again impressive in this game, popped a pass through some Superman hands to an onrushing Big Joe and after bobbling the ball, he finished off his run in typical fashion. The try was converted by Henry to make the score 19-7. Our team spent the rest of the first half on the back-foot and Superman scored another converted try just before half-time off another lost set-piece. At half-time, Superman were leading 26-7 and the physical nature of this game had led to Bryan O' Brian being forced off with concussion (concussed when making a thumping tackle on their fly-half who was injured in the process as well) and Kaku (bruised knee) being substituted for Anga.
Stern words from captain Al greeted the team during the interval. The second half started promptly and though the Gaijin began this half with renewed vigour, ill-discipline and loose play led to a similar pattern of play developing. Superman scored a succession of tries via Gaijin mistakes and the contest ended uneventfully with the final score being 45-7 to Superman. Second half incidents worth mentioning included; Henry being sin-binned for tackling a player off the ground; Dave Kelver momentarily coming off the pitch to pop his shoulder in place, then going back on; David Chan making a few thrusting runs at centre after coming on as a sub.. and Andy Ballard playing touch by himself after the game had ended.
Overall, Superman were the better team on this day and demonstrated that an off-colour Tokyo Gaijin team lacking key personnel in the forwards will find it tough to compete against first-tier teams. The Gaijin were second best rucking and mauling, disorganized in both lineouts and scrums and made a ton of errors. On the positives, Al and Toshi battled hard under constant duress. They tried valiantly to string together some moves on scraps and their half-back partnership seems to be gelling well. Both Liam and Rich were highly active and played the entire game. Man of the Match went to Shin for his tireless efforts tackling. This game was invaluable to The Tokyo Gaijin as it exposed the flaws and weaknesses that the team will have to work on before the start of this year's Tokyo Cup campaign. There is a possibility that The Tokyo Gaijin will be drawn in the same group as Superman and if this were to happen, "Gaijinman" will want to avenge this defeat in the sequel.
Finally, a "thank you" to everyone (helpers, non-participating players
, supporters,etc.) who came to this game.
Final score: Superman 45; TGRFC 7 (Joe Nawaqavanua 1 try, Henry Bird conversion 1/1)
1. Chris Lucas (AUS)
2. Liam Ramshaw (ENG)
3. Kaku Kato (Japan)
4. Rich O' Shea (Wales, vc)
5. Dave Kelver (USA)
6. Joe Nawaqavanua (Fiji)
7. Shin Nakamura (Japan)
8. Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque)
9. Al Nimmo (England, C)
10. Toshi Miyano (Japan)
11. Bryan O' Brien (USA)
12. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
13. Joe Iwasaki (Japan)
14. Ikuo Fukuda (Japan)
15. Henry Bird (NZ)
Reserves: Natsuhiko Kunitomo, Akira Yamagen, Joffa Harris, Charles Joffre, Blake Walker, Yoshihiro Sato, Ryogo, David Chan, Tristan O'Connor, Andy Ballard