by Reece Morgan

At long last, the Awards Dinner is here, meaning that the Crusaders’ appallingly long season has come to a close. Altogether, it’s safe to say that this has been one of the Cru’s more successful, finishing with Shuto League gold, the Meat Cup, and solid set of performances in the Champions’ Cup, despite a disappointing demotion in the Tokyo Cup.

Our opening campaign was the Shuto League, and after fighting hard for 3rd place last season, we were hoping to find ourselves on the podium again. Our first game, against AllJinJan, quickly put paid to those dreams: woefully under-prepared and lacking any kind of bench, our early strength ran dry in the second half and the day was lost. Beaten by a team that we’d expected to have toppled, the Cru ship wasn’t looking in good condition.

Even so, we were able to inflict big losses on Wild Turkey, Tokyo Doctors and Olivers. When the grudge match against the Gaijin rolled round, we moved out in force and – for the first time in recent memory – took the W, compounding the victory with the Street Fighter Bash the following week. We looked to the future with renewed fire, and realised that we could get a medal after all. Although we lost the Mac Cup fixture against YCAC, and were desperately undermanned for our friendly against Superman, a huge contingent turned up to the final against Koryo. Happy in the knowledge that we’d earned silver, and keen for vengeance after their sneaky postponement in November, we turned our thoughts towards the gold.

In the Cru’s finest hour, the forwards ran rampant and utterly crushed the Koryo defence, the whistle blowing on a 59-0 victory that saw the boys in blue clear at the top of the table. The Christmas Bash and New Year’s Social were that much sweeter!

Following some disastrous opening practice games, the Cru entered the Champions’ Cup with a fixture against the Edogawa champions, Blackeyes. In the Cru’s most strenuous defensive test to date, Blackeyes exploited every vulnerability but were largely kept at bay, and the end result of 40-26 was certainly well-deserved. A somewhat depleted squad then beat out Nerima, leading to the final between the Crusaders and the Gaijin. The opposition took the win, and although the fixture was marked by foul play and some very cheeky team selection, the fans in attendance were treated to an almighty clash between Tokyo’s top international squads.

Keen for some respite, the Cru’s world-renowned spin on a 10s tournament, the Meat Cup, followed soon after. The promise of beer and meat drew a far greater number of Crusaders than the previous games had(!), but the sudden departure of sunshine in favour of gale-force winds and rain saw the five opposition squads in somewhat short supply, leading to a great deal of team-sharing. After making their way to face us in the final, Toda Over the Top just wanted to go home, forfeiting the boat race and leaving the Crusaders as champions once again. The BBQ itself, however, was an unparalleled success, and set the bar high for next year’s festivities.

Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that the Cru had fallen victim to their own success. Wall-to-wall fixtures without the chance to recuperate meant that several Cru stalwarts were playing injured, and victims of the eternal plague – repatriation – started to rack up. Friendlies against Matsudo and the Acorns showed how thinly the Cru had run itself, and our Tokyo Cup fixtures against Dasewa and Superman put this on display: despite beating one and narrowly losing to the other with skeleton squads earlier in the season, the Cru were simply outclassed, let down by an almost non-existent back line. Pulling together to take out the Yellowbacks, the final fixture of the year was a rematch against our sole defeat in the Shuto League, AllJinJan. Would the Cru rise to the challenge and retain their first division spot, or would the giant-killers cause another upset?

Although the four-week break provided ample opportunity for the Cru to recover, the line-up still suffered from a scarcity of backs; on top of this, Hide-and-Seek 2017 World Champion and Crusaders captain Tom Cocks had disappeared once again. The Cru made its standard response by filling the pitch with locks and flankers, and the game kicked off. Although the conditions gave the Crusaders some cause for hope, the humidity and lack of substitutes began to take their toll – the Cru were defeated once again, and cast down to Division 2. Quietly, many felt that this was a blessing in disguise, as it will allow for team restructuring and more game time for those that may have missed out in the hectic, every-game-is-the-most-important-game-so-far season that the Cru had endured.

After some reflection, the tenor for the coming year has been set: a better balance of games and getting shitfaced rest; renewed investments in club culture, and a commitment to strengthening our placement as ‘the gentlemen gaijin’. The 2016/17 season has been an stupendous year for the Cru, and we hope to continue moving from strength to strength.

From here, only two more events are locked in: the annual dinner with all of its civility, and finally tour, with all of its degeneracy. It’s likely that the booze cruise will make a reappearance, and perhaps even some practice before it all starts again in September.

We’d like to thank every one who has worn a Cru shirt this season, whether Tsukasa reluctantly donning the 15 week-in, week-out, or Jake, ruining his family holiday for a single outing in the legendary black and blue. We’d like to thank every supporter who has endured the rain and cold to back the Cru, even in losing fixtures. We’d like to thank every female fan who has suffered poor-quality sharking and even worse renditions of Piano Man. Above all, we’d like to thank everyone who has made even the slightest input to our brand of amateur rugby, and enabled us to continue spreading camaraderie and the Western spirit through the Tokyo rugby sphere.

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