With a significant decline in pandemic-induced panic and waistlines expanding to worrying extents, the Cru eagerly responded to the Gaijin call for a pre-summer clash. Any game between the two sides draws out the best (and bloodiest) from both squads, but the sudden passing of Gaijin stalwart and Shuto League head Yamagen brought a new level of poignancy to proceedings. There could be no better way to send the legend off than with a clash between the two teams whose cause he championed the most, and so both sides turned up ready for a war. The Crusader warm-up session was less than inspiring, with Dom Sumner having apparently developed udders for hands during the lay-off, and little synchronisation between the rest of the squad. Nevertheless, the boys turned their minds to the game and gave a minute’s silence over to the memory of Yamagen, with a quick shake of hands and the first whistle soon to follow. Playing with the kind of zeal that only a memorial match can offer, the Gaijin were quick out of the starting blocks: hard runs and forward-driven play tested the Cru from the off, but Paddy and well-over-the-hill Sparrow led the fringe defence with aplomb. While the first scrums showed that the Cru pack hadn’t lost a step, a head-clash saw scaled-down loosehead Reece off for a blood injury; thankfully, the front row rolled deep that day, with Josh, Thomas and Shota find a strong rhythm. In time, the Cru found their pace, with the Toon Army combo of Matt and Jacob providing smooth links to the backs, opening the way for Chris, Hugo, and Travis to pile into the attacking line. With Reece rejoining the pack and Hiro briefly tagging in for Shota, the Cru held out well until the Gaijin exploited a lapse in defensive concentration, barrelling through the centre to take an early lead; while Brett kept a cool head and led his troops wisely, Frank – as ever – reacted like a toddler denied chocolate, transmuting his rage into a series of huge runs and ruck-rolling drives. With a couple of missed tackles making room for another Gaijin intrusion and try, the Cru took a back-to-basics approach: big hitters Shota, Brett and Aaron moved their way down the pitch, with the rest of the pack seizing the rucks immediately, before winging it out to the supposedly skilful back-line. Sneaking around the corner, Taro put the Cru on the scoreboard before slotting the conversion, leaving the half-time score at 12-7 in favour of the Gaijin. Shortly after kick-off, the immensity of the occasion brought the two squads back to what they do best: getting into a fight without any real reason. With members from both squads clearly thinking ‘well, I just want to see what happens, really’, it was left to the Gaijin subs to part the squabbling Tomo, Brett and assorted Gaijin that tumbled over the touch line. With that necessity out of the way, Trav saw fit to launch his deep tactical approach mulled over at half time, only to bin it and instead wing the ball to Hugo, whose Reign of Terror carried him straight over the try line. A sliced conversion saw the two sides draw level, with everything to play for in the final quarter. The subsequent ten minutes saw the Gaijin mount a strong returning offensive, with Joffa leading the charge into Cru territory and pinning the plucky Boys in Blue down in their ten metre zone. Nevertheless, strong lineout performances saw the Cru pack hold the line, then rally through a six-scrum series that sorely tested the two packs’ raw physicality. Frank complained throughout. A lucky break and a definitely-not-in-touch placement saw the Gaijin sneak back to a 17-12 lead, and the Cru had little time to mount their assault. Fight back they did, however, and a series of strongly supported charges from Frank, Chris and Benji saw the Cru work their way back down the field. With some deft footwork from Travis opening up new holes in the Gaijin defence, enough errors were forced to net the Cru a 22-metre scrum. Summoning what little strength remained, the pack cleanly took the ball before the éminence grise himself, Hugo Mestre, stole through the Gaijin backs and netted another try. With Jacob slotting it beautifully, the Cru held out through a manic two- minute finale to snatch the victory at 19-17. True to its memorial nature, however, the day can only be read as a victory for international amateur rugby in Japan. The two sides stood as brothers after the game, regaling each other with tales of Yamagen, questionable decisions made in Roppongi, and all that from which rugby camaraderie is made. With two eskies of beer to get through, social distancing was briefly abolished in memory of a true Shuto League legend. As the two sides that perhaps most clearly embody Yamagen’s legacy, it was a joy to see the Cru and Gaijin temporarily lay their ‘rivalry’ aside and showcase the true meaning of rugby and fellowship. After a minor issue with booking – that was definitely not the fault of this writer, no chance – the Cru headed off to Hananomai for the usual post-match dining experience. New boys Arthur and Blake enjoyed their introductory pints; Brett was saved from tears by the timely appearance of a Moscow Mule, and Dom watched UFC in the corner, ignoring all conversation. Energised by a victory over their keenest foes after such a long time away from the pitch, the Cru now looks eagerly toward a clash with Japan’s finest piss-up brigade Matsudo RFC in our annual meeting next week. Points were awarded as follows: 5: Hugo Mestre – unparalleled speed, precision, and eagerness to escape from his wife and child 4: Brett P-S – thoughtful leadership and a great showing as jumper, his least favourite position 3: Travis Dixon – solid (if wasted) tactical play, and that weird thing where he simply walks, but never gets tackled 2: Frank Saffery – comical anger that drove brutal play, solid scrummaging and a staggering amount of swearing 1: Jacob Riley – pivotal pack-back interplay and a clutch conversion. We’ll ignore the missed kick.

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