imageby Rob Galbraith

The stage was set for the climax to the season- the Tokyo Cup Promotion/Relegation battle for a place in Division 1 next season. The opponents would be NS Ruggers RFC whom we knew little about, apart from the fact that in order to bring up their results on google one would need to type in NS Lager RFC. The location would be the Komazawa Olympic Park and as we strode in, we heard a boisterous crowd watching a game played on a pitch surrounded by grandstands. However, we would be playing on the rather less glamorous football pitch next door, with an imaginary half way line and an in-goal area more akin to sandpaper than fourth generation astro.

Nonetheless, the Cru turned up in good spirits, and numbers, with some better prepared for the wet weather than others – notably Tooley sporting the latest wet-weather head gear straight off the Milan catwalk. The pre-match kit-check went without a hitch and after running through some drills and re-starts, the Crusaders were ready for their last competitive match of the 2014 season.

From the off, it was noticeable that NS Ruggers, like any Japanese team, would not roll over against the relentless pressure they faced- in fact they wouldn’t roll away from the tackle either. This led to penalty after penalty being awarded to the Cru within their opponent’s 22, yet the strong NS Ruggers’ defence, coupled with some handling errors due to the wet conditions, meant the score remained 0-0 for 13 minutes. It would appropriately be Chris, in his last game for the Cru, who broke the deadlock, and following this there seemed to be a greater air of composure to the Cru attack. A Galdric double soon followed as well as a try for Yorkie but the half would be remembered for two moments of equal disparity – a spectacular try and a spectacular miss. As Galdric strode through to cap off another fine team move, to his astonishment and all those around him, time seemed to stand still,… as he spilled the ball and conceded a 5 metre scrum. Sacre bleu! The try of the match soon followed as Jason, on for Kyle (who suffered an eye-swelling facial injury), and playing in the unfamiliar role of outside centre, broke through and beat a man before throwing the perfect looping pass out to Chris who finished in style. At half time the score stood at 33-0; NS Ruggers had seen little of the ball and the prospect of the Cru shutting out their opponents for the whole game looked a very real one.

The Cru started the second half where they left off, with Chris touching down early after a lofty pass by Travis (“akin to the Cruden pass which put Savea away the day before”, according to Trav). This was soon followed by Jason, who’s try epitomized the Cru spirit. Despite only having to trot in unopposed from the 22, Jason was supported by 3 or 4 Cru players who jogged alongside him until he scored the five points. NS Ruggers were starting to look weary and had conceded four tries in the first fifteen minutes with Travis frequently breaking through. Cru legs were also getting heavy and much needed changes were made at half time and throughout the second half including Alex Diaz coming on for his last game in a Cru shirt, excluding Okinawa. Although three tries were conceded after Tooley had cleared the bench, and against an NS Ruggers team gaining in confidence with every phase, the Cru battled until the end, when Travis touched down for the final try of the game. Given his season, there was only one man who was going to be taking the final kick – step up Chris Ekstrom. Would it end in a fairytale ending, icing on the cake of what had been a stunning season?…. ’Course it did!
The final score read 74-21 with the penalty count in favour of the Cru by 14-4.

The Cru had clinched promotion to the Tokyo Cup First Division with something to spare but that is not to discredit our opponents who fought right to the end. The usual post-match pleasantries included their No.8 being nominated as their MVP, and farewell speeches by Chris, Kyle and Alex. Less pleasant scenes followed in the showers as Frank’s presence left Eric feeling somewhat uncomfortable.

The post-match function was held in the Umaiya Izakaya near Komazawa Daigaku Station with 30 players, staff and supporters in great spirits taking full advantage of the nomihoudai and tabehoudai. Highlights/Lowlights, several boat races and the 321s followed with Galdric being voted our Man of the Match yet again.

At the end of what had been a great day and a great occasion, there are a lot of thank-yous to be said – thank you to the brilliant turn out of Cru players, and in particular Jonas, who was very unselfish in volunteering to be a supporter for the day after the squad was oversubscribed. Thank you to the staff (Tooley, the two Aikos, Derek, Alex, Yusei, Rui, Kanako and Tomoe) and supporters (too many to mention, but who included Seth, Christina, Eri, Aiko, and my old man, as well as numerous WAGs) who together are the backbone of the club and without whom the club would not be nearly as successful. Lastly, a special thank you to the departing Chris, Kyle, and Alex – three quality players and top guys. I`m sure I speak on behalf of the Cru when I say you have been a great asset to the club and an absolute pleasure to play alongside, and we all wish you the very best with your future endeavours. As for the Cru’s future, a step up to the Tokyo Cup Division 1 awaits, and although we are losing some class players, we look in a great position to step up and compete at the highest level next season.

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