Dateline: November 20th, 2011
The Tokyo Gaijin RFC turned up at Yanokuchi Field with victory the only thing on their mind as they aimed to go through the Autumn season undefeated for the first time in their 20 year history. They had wrapped up the Shuto League the week before and gone through undefeated putting over 20 points on most of the teams and now all eyes were on the even bigger prize.
They achieved their aims with a comprehensive 36 v 0 win with big Fijian Joe Nawaqavanua figuring prominently by scoring over half the teams' points with a 4 try effort.
The 'friendly' against Baku & Clover RFC (B & C), a Second Division team, had been organized to give fringe players and new players more game time. The run on team would see three new starters for the club in loose- head prop Koji Nishihara, halfback Tatsuma Muto and winger Ken Goto. Despite missing some key players the whole team were conscious of being the first Gaijin side to go through the Autumn season (or any season for that matter) undefeated and were keyed up for victory.
After a day of pouring rain the two teams had to spend a good part of their warm-ups trying to get rid of the large puddle of water in the middle of the right half of the field. The Gaijin had a terrible warm-up and every one was quite surprised to see Gaz Dalrymple take the opening kickoff cleanly as the team had butchered 4 kickoffs in their warmup.
The Gaijin also earned the first penalty of the game inside the first 30 seconds .... a rather rare event. In fact the Gaijin received quite a few early penalties, mostly for ruck infringements. From one of these penalties the ball was kicked into the corner. After winning the lineout, Bryan O'Brien came in off the blindside wing but was tackled heavily and stopped in his tracks in a badly timed run. The ball was quickly recycled and Joe Nawaqavanua broke a few tackles and strolled under the posts to open the scoring. Yamagen converted and the score became 7 v 0.
The next piece of promising play was from centre Ikuo Fukuda who showed surprising pace to beat a few defenders. Unfortunately his run was mostly across field and he burnt all his supports and ran out of options.
The Gaijin worked their way into the Baku & Clover 22 metre area with a bag of penalties and some good mauling. Nik Pavesic peeled off the side of a ruck, drew a defender and then passed to Nawaqavanua who went over the tryline in the tackle for his second try of the afternoon. Yamagen missed the conversion. Score: 12 v 0.
From the kickoff the Gaijin let the ball bounce and Nawaqavanua took it one handed and rather nonchalantly and then worked his way up field to the opposition's 22 metre line beating half the Baku & Clover team. He was finally brought down by a good tackle around the ankles by the fullback.
The Stamina of the Gaijin was questioned soon after when their scrum, which had been strong up to this point was pushed back and turned and the referee had no hesitation in awarding a reset to Baku & Clover. The Gaijin then responded in kind by pushing their opposition scrum backwards but the oppostion managed to clear the ball in a hurried fashion. Continued pressure forced panicked ball from the next ruck which was slung to the B & C standoff, who was already standing behind the deadball line when he received the ball. This gave the Gaijin a scrum on the 5 metre line. Prop Koji Nishihara, in his first start for the Gaijin, crashed over the line after some strong rucking from the Gaijin for his first try for the club. Yamagen again failed to convert and the scoreline was now 17 v 0.
Nik Pavesic unusually dropped the kickoff and was later given Goat of the Game for his efforts. B & C worked their way close to the Gaijin line and looked like they were going to score out wide until the large figure of Nawaqavanua made a try-saving tackle on the winger to keep the Gaijin tryline uncrossed.
At half time the Gaijin were relatively happy with their performance. They had been pushing into the wind but had held most of the territory. The referee had also been on their side which baffles some as one wonders how the team can be penalised so much at times and then be so exemplary at others. The Gaijin scrum, anchored by Koji Nishihara and Takeshi Koba, had been quite strong and caused headaches fo the halfback and No.8 at the back of a backpeddling B & C scrum. The backs had been solid without being outstanding but their defense had been sound in keeping B & C scoreless.
At the 5 minute mark of the second half the Gaijin made three changes with Jo Iwasaki coming on for Mosese Rarasea in the centres, Shinichiro Nakayama for Nik Pavesic at lock and Hitoshi Chihara for Yamagen at fullback.
The Baku & Clover team had all the running for the next 10 minutes and were pressing the Gaijin 22 metre line. However, once again, the Gaijin defense held firm and they managed to work their way out of trouble and upfield with good interplay and rucking work. David Middleditch, having his first game for the Gaijin at standoff as opposed to his regular position at fullback, ghosted between defenders and managed to muscle his way over the tryline with two tacklers hanging on. He converted his own try and the Gaijin were now out to a seemingly unbeatable lead of 24 v 0.
Not long after the kickoff the B & C centre went through a yawning hole after a bad read in defense by Gaijin centre Ikuo Fukuda. The centre was heading towards the line to score what looked like a certain try until Gaijin winger Ken Goto appeared out of the blue and smashed him from behind in the tackle of the game, dislodging the ball in the process. Once again good scrambling defense had kept B & C scoreless. The Gaijin made the most of B & C's misfortune when Hitoshi Chihara ran the ball wide from his own tryline, drew a defender, and then passed to Joe Nawaqavanua. The big Fijian smashed a covering forward out of the way and proceeded to run 80 metres, outsprinting the cover defense, to score under the posts. So what looked for all money to be a try to B & C had been turned into a try for the Tokyo Gaijin RFC. Dave Middleditch stepped up to convert and make the scoreline 31 v 0 to the Gaijin.
The Gaijin finished with a sustained spell of pressure that eventually saw Joe Nawaqavanua barge over from the back of a ruck to score his 4th try and final try of the match. Middleditch was unable to convert to leave the final score at 36 v 0 to the Gaijin.
It was a comprehensive victory and to leave Baku & Clover, one of the better second division teams, scoreless was an excellent defensive effort. For the Gaijin the tight 5 impressed with their scrummaging and new boy Koji Nishihara at loose-head prop would have to take some credit there. Joe Nawaqavaua who scored 4 excellent tries and made a try saving tackle was often mentioned in Man of the Match calculations but the award was given to Kiwi flanker Daniel Worden, who was everywhere on the pitch in both attack and defense. In the backs, Dave Middleditch did a fine job of marshalling his backs, and the rest of the backs lacked the finishing touches in attack but did a very good job in defense.
The result meant that the Gaijin had gone through the entire Autumn season, in both the Shuto League and the various 'friendlies', undefeated. This is the first time the team has achieved such a milestone and fitting that it should happen in the 20th anniversary year. To completely blank Baku & Clover was also a fitting way to end the campaign.
Afterwards, about half the team went back out for some more action in the Ambassadors Cup representative trials. At the time of printing successful trialists were unknown. Watch this space.
Thanks to all the helpers on the day and to Natsu & Take who volunteered to wash the two sets of muddy jerseys.
SCORE: TGRFC 36 (Joe Nawaqavanua 4, Koji Nishihara 1, David Middleditch 1 tries, Yamagen 1/3 conversions, D. Middleditch 2/3 conversions) Baku & Clover 0
Man of the Match: Daniel Worden
Goat of the Match: Nik Pavesic
1. Koji Nishihara (Japan)
2. Gaz Dalrymple (Scotland)
3. Takeshi Koba (Japan)
4. Richard O'Shea (c) (Wales)
5. Natsuhiko Kunitomo (Japan)
6. Joe Nawaqavanua (Fiji)
7. Daniel Bowden (NZ)
8. Nik Pavesic (Croatia)
9. Ryogo Takemura (Japan)
10. David Middleditch (England)
11. Bryan O'Brien (USA)
12. Mosese Rarsea (Fiji)
13. Ikuo Fukuda (Japan)
14. Ken Goto (Japan)
15. Yamagen (Japan)
Reserves: Shinichiro Nakayama (Japan), Tatsuma Muto (Japan), Jo Iwasaki (Japan), Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)