By Alex Howard.

Last week’s electric buzz had come from the grown men playing with children’s toys behind the pitch at Akigase; this week it came from grown men waiting outside Yanokuchi station wondering what sort of state Travis would be in. We knew he’d been out the night before celebrating Christmas in Shinjuku, so you could almost taste the tension as all eyes were fixed on the station entrance. Fortunately the Shuto Trial match had clearly brought the best (that could be expected) out of the skipper, and this week he wasn’t topping off the previous night’s efforts with liqueur and caffeine. With that excitement out of the way, thoughts turned to what was on the sporting agenda for today – it was clear, almost immediately, that we would be playing some form of rugby, but wildly differing ideas about what format the Trial match would take were floating around. Clearly Tooley had been playing mind games to rival Alex Ferguson in order to ensure a strong Cru turn out…
While the 17 Crusaders players debated the game format, the Shuto selectors had clearly sized us up and realised their trial team would only be able to cope with two 20 minute quarters of Cru power, before playing Tokyo Gaijin RFC for a further two quarters. We can only assume they didn’t feel the need for fresh legs against the Gaijin, but either way, we now knew how long we had to impress the selectors and live up to expectations of us as the reigning champions of the Shuto league. Injured stars Seth Robson and Roy McGrath had clearly felt that a Cru performance was in the offing and were on the sidelines to witness it first-hand. Evan Hitchman was also dragged away from recovery time after the AFL grand final with the promise of a clipboard and being allowed to scream as much as he liked. With Aiko on the side of the pitch as well, we lined up for the kick-off knowing we had great support and were going to give the Shuto trial team hell for our allotted 40 minutes.

Much of the talk before kick-off was about teamwork and supporting the ball carrier, so it was no surprise when, after cleanly gathering the kick off, the Cru simply marched down the field with a 3 minute drive that finished with Dom going over for a comfortable try. We were 5-0 up before the other team had touched the ball, but this was a strong team we were playing against, though, with pace to burn in midfield. As they began to find their rhythm, our backline, with Matt Sparrow to the fore, were having to put in some shuddering hits to slow the momentum down. After the rep team had scored a converted try, Alex and Rob responded with converted tries of our own – gravity playing an enormous part in the former’s score…

As the first quarter/half wore on, it was clear that the Cru were controlling the breakdown well, with the back-row everywhere in support, running great lines and ensuring quick ball for RJ to release the express-pace outside . Steve, Rei and Rob, take a bow! Dom finished off another sweeping possession to score his second try of the game just before half-time – ensuring the Cru went into the huddle leading 24-12.

At half-time, the deck was shuffled somewhat but there was no let up from the sideline manager, as Evan introduced the man-mountain that is Chris Cornute. Pierre came onto the wing where, despite a hamstring injury, he was still able to make everyone else look like they were running through puddles. That said, the nimblest set of feet on show during the second half was clearly during a dummy-and-break from the back of the ruck by one of the forwards – Alex showing the kind of gas that you very seldom see on a rugby field these days! Moments of skill like that were plentiful during the second half, and the trials team were also picking up the pace a bit, contributing to a more even 20 minutes; two tries by the opposition and a typical “Beast Mode” effort from Van in response was the tale of the half. At the final whistle, the Cru could celebrate a 31-24 victory and a strong showing against the best of the rest from the Shuto League. The odd wobble/ridiculously high tackle aside this was a performance to be proud of, and the fact we won the penalty count 7-5 is testament to a controlled performance (as well as great reffing from Sideshow Bob’s Japanese cousin Adachi-san).

Despite the game only being 40 minutes in length, the 6 Cru players who were trying out for the Rep team were all able to demonstrate to the selectors that they deserved to move on to the following round of trials–Rob Galbraith, Travis Dixon, Macer Allen, Pierre Sims, Alex Howard and Dominique Adams will all be back at Yanokuchi next week to represent the Cru.

The 3-2-1s

  • 5 points for Rob Galbraith
  • 4 points for Macer Van Allen
  • 3 points for Steve Howden
  • 2 points for Dominique Adams
  • 1 point for Alex Howard

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