Tokyo Crusaders vs. Dandelions RFC, 61-0 (W)

COMETH THE HOUR, COMETH THE TEAM.

By Yutaka Yazawa

It was a cold grey day on 8 December in Nishi-Urawa, Saitama Prefecture. For those without the sense of geography, Saitama is to Tokyo what New Jersey is to New York. As you come out of Nishi-Urawa station, the biggest thing that comes into your sight is the overhead expressway that jets out of Tokyo for north, without any exit in Nishi-Urawa’s neighbourhood. The next thing you notice is the tacky neon sign of a “dance club”.

As I came out of turnstiles, breathing out white mist with each breath, I was met by the wide-eyed Brandon “Rodeo Man” Fought. Fresh back from the Philippines, he couldn’t play on the day due to injuries. But he couldn’t stay away from the occasion. To be in Nishi-Urawa in time before 12:30, he said, he had to leave Yokosuka around 9:00am. He wanted to be on the sideline for his team.

The whole team turned up before the meeting time of 12:30. And the team looked big. We had more than 30 players available for the day. The mood was sombre, yet determined. After all it was a big day. This was our last league game of the Shuto League and we were in with a shot at the championship in our first year of being promoted to the league’s first division.

It took the whole taxi fleet of Nishi-Urawa (about 5?) two trips each to shuttle our players from the station to the pitch in Akigase park, on the riverbank of Arakawa River. Another Shuto League game was on before ours and it was running late. Few were distracted, however, by the on-going game, played between our opponents of previous weekends. One after another, the players quietly suited up. Boots and shorts. Our minds were on this weekend’s game and on the championship.

Stewart “Tooley” Henwood summoned the team and explained the situation, which had by then become familiar to the most of us. There was a three-way tie at the top of the league and we needed to win the last game against Dandelions RFC by scoring more than 4 tries without conceding a point in order to claim the league championship in accordance with the league rules. More experienced players amongst us were more concerned about not conceding a point, rather than scoring 4+ tries. We knew we could rout the opposition in a try fest of a game. Our team had been joined this season by awesome try-scoring talents such as Chris “X-Man” Ekstrom, Luke “Midnight Bus” Bradley, and Brett “Surely-He-Played-Loki-In-‘Thor'” Wallbutton in our backline, in addition to ever reliable Travis “Raging Hemingway” Dixon and Takushi “Okinawa Cheek-to-Cheek Dance King” Hayashi. On the other hand, defence is all about co-ordination and practice, rather than individual talent and flair. We realised that we were going to be tested individually on our commitment to the game and to each of our teammates no matter how well the game was going for us, from the beginning to the final whistle.

Roy “Kit-master General” Yorke laid out the markers on the ground for the now familiar warm-up routine. Roy was yet another on the injury list but he made it to the pitch on the day. Going through the warm-up, the tense atmosphere was broken loose by ever high spirited antics of Evan “Ned Kelly with Mirror Ball(s)” Kerr as well as Jackie Wilson and Cornelius Smith grooving to their headphone music.

The team selection for the day was announced by Tooley, as per usual, but it started with an apology. It was clear from the sheer number of available players, as well as the “no risk” stance we had to adopt in order to achieve 0-point defence, the team selection had to be conservative with minimal substitution opportunities.

The circumstances, in turn, provided the added awareness on those who were selected to give 100+%. Personally, I was touched and inspired by the trust shown in all Japanese front-row selection, alongside Kiyoshi “Yes-That-Is-My-Girlfriend-Sitting-In-That-Volvo” Hamazuni and Yuuki “Oddjob with Heart of Glass” Adachi.

With the renewed urgency, the forward players were set to pace by the pack-leader, Paul “Big Unit” Skurr, practicing lineouts and scrums, while the backs galloped around to the orders of Travis. The captain’s speech was short and to-the-point. The lack of colourful expletives from Evan “Soon-To-Be-Married” Hitchman, by the usual standard, reflected the seriousness of the occasion felt by all of us. We were the warriors on a working day.

The Cru had the kick-off and Evan “Jockey” Hitchman stepped up in the middle of Akigase pitch. Despite the green shrubbery of woods surrounding the rugby field, we could feel the icy wind sweeping down from the northern mountains and the grass underneath our feet were half-brown.

Evan’s kick found the unlucky Dandelions second row player who was immediately creamed by a massive tackle from Pat “Smiley Giant With Posh Accent” Wheen on the second row duty for the day. The game continued with the Cru maintaining the pressure in the Dandelion’s half and, soon enough, at about 7-minute mark, Chris Ekstrom on the wing drew the first blood, scoring a try from his usual sheering run on the side line.

The Cru had made the requisite 4 tries within the first half, with a try contributed from each of Neil “Grey Ghost” Maclean at scrum half (at 10-minute), Brett Wallbutton at wing (at 19-minute), and Luke Bradley at outside centre (at 36-minute).

There was a hairy moment when a series of offside infringements around rucks by the forward players allowed the Dandelions to approach the Cru’s 22-metre line just about the halfway through the first half. A single kick at goal would have torpedoed the Cru’s championship dreams. Luckily, the Dandelions opted to test our defence line. From the solid maul base within the Cru’s 22-metre line, Paul Skurr made a breaking run on the blindside and brought the Cru back to the halfway line and into the opposition’s half.

We did talk about giving away penalties in ruck situations before the match and it was a good thing that the Cru had escaped the danger early, learning the lessons without paying dearly for the wisdom. Another weakness in the Cru surfaced in the closing minutes of the first half. As Paul Skurr took on a determined tackle from an opposition player, he tried to pass the ball on to Travis Dixon as he went down. Unfortunately and uncharacteristically, Travis fumbled the ball. Evan “Pommy-Basher” Hitchman screamed “No Pop Passes!” to which Paul “Lion King” Skurr quickly retorted “He asked for it!”. There was an uneasy silence from the teammates as two continued arguing from their mental quick replays. Soon, both fizzled out and returned to normal, just like an old couple. The British Empire cast its long shadows in that corner of a rugby pitch in Japan that moment whilst not a few Americans in the Cru fold watched on as they counted their blessings of the Founding Fathers.

Luckily, it was almost the last play of the first half.

More of the same was the order during the half-time break. Accordingly, there was a minimum of changes to the team lineup, except for Yuuki Adachi being replaced at hooker and Yuuki replacing yours truly at loose-head in the front row. The new man, Tom Cocks had been on and off, roll-subbing Pat Wheen in the second row. Eventually in the course of second half, Neil Maclean was replaced by Evan Hitchman who returned to his usual position at scrum half and the fullback position was assumed by Andy “Surf ‘n’ Turf” Doyle in his last appearance for the Cru before his departure for sunny Perth. Takushi “Taku-san” Hayashi was also eventually replaced by Luke Bradley, who moved from outside centre to inside centre, and the vacancy at outside centre was more than filled by Kyle “NBA” Cotton.

The second half continued the Cru’s try fest. Chris Ekstrom opened the account in his usual style within 5 minutes. 10 minutes in, there was a hairy moment when a Dandelion player was apparently concussed and stayed motionless on the ground for a while. He was eventually carried away in an ambulance and we later learned, to our great relief, that he was checked at the nearby hospital and found to be OK.

Tries kept coming in from the Kiwi combo of Travis and Luke both scoring 2 tries each in the second half, eventually carrying our scoreline to 61-0, helped by Evan’s steady goal kicking (he only missed one conversion out of 9 attempts).

It must be mentioned, however, that the way the Dandelions played their game and their composure throughout deserve much respect and praise. They were the team facing the relegation and were conceding huge points. Nevertheless, they kept at it like true sportsmen. There were no silly infringements in rucks and they were consistently putting up some respectable attacking phases throughout the game. There were more than a couple of plays towards the end where the Cru’s defence line was severely tested and was only saved by handling errors on the Dandelions’ part. It was, as had been promised, a tight game until the end.

Eventually, the final whistle went and the Cru celebrated the famous victory. Because of the silly (or profoundly wise?) league rules imposing the 0-point hurdle on the Cru, it was more of relief than jubilation that overcame most of our players. Truth be told, we were not yet sure if the Cru had won the league at that point, as it had to be confirmed by the league’s great and good. (The confirmation came through on the Tuesday morning.) In any event, we were all proud to have achieved what we had set out to achieve and to be part of that collective effort.

After munching down the panettone and dundee cake baked by Aiko “Pint-size Venus” Watanabe and yours truly, respectively, and Pat Wheen managing to lose his shorts somewhere on the pitch, the Cru adjourned to Ikebukuro for a victory izakaya session in the basement dungeon provided by one of Watami Group’s more sinister branches. Customary 3-2-1 went thusly :

Players-Men-of-the-Match:
1. Travis Dixon (3 points)
2. Luke Bradley (2 points)
3. Paul “100% NZ” Ralph / Evan Kerr / Chris Ekstrom (1 point)

Substitutes:
Marc Sherratt, Jonas Hult, Eric Wilkinson, Joel Hammen, Andrew Grachek, Hamza Ishikawa, Gavin Smith, Zachary Niesen, Jackie Wilson, Cornelius Smith, and Wyn Hughes.

Support Staff:
Stewart Henwood, Gareth “Chairman Ichiro” Lim, Roy Yorke, Dylan Lee, Brandon Fought, Aiko Watanabe, and Derek Simmons

POSTEAMPTSWDLPFPA+/-
POSTEAMPTSWDLPFPA+/-
1Tokyo Crusaders RFC2040118559126
2Olivers RFC2040117767110
3Tokyo Gaijin RFC204011106842
4Goddamns RFC11203131197-66
5Shinjuku Jack RFC610467115-48
6Dandelions RFC100548210-162

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