By Reece Morgan,
Thirty-four degrees and sweltering sunshine would make for a perfect day at the beach — perhaps not the perfect conditions for the first match of the season. Nonetheless, the Crusaders landed at Futakotamagawa with a strong starting lineup and a bench stuffed to the gunwales, boasting a complement of new players keen to make their names known (well done Nic on the ‘gram!). After a dearth of rugby in the closing months of the season, the squad was raring to go, with an equally hungry All France ready to make their mark on the first division of the Shuto league. The absolute cherry on top was the fact that Toshi, respected universally as one of the fairest and most knowledgeable referees around, would be the man with the whistle.
From the kick-off, it was clear that All France had come ready for war. Making the most of the Cru’s unfamiliarity with the new tackling laws, the Gauls made metre after metre, but could never quite make it through the Cru defence to the tryline. Any time they gained significant ground, flankers Sam and Luke would snatch a quick turnover, with big runs from Tom and Captain Brett pushing them back down the field; Drew and Sparrow locked down the wings, leaving no room for the opposition to slip in. Sensing the effort it would take to get over the line, All France opted for a penalty kick to get the first points on the board.
After some back-line shuffling, the Cru responded with vigour: a few strong drives saw the Cru parked on the All France line, similarly struggling to get the final few metres in. Taking advantage of a strong central scrum helmed by tighthead Alex, big runs from Dom and Jamie drew in the All France defence, allowing a few quick whips back left to see Taku grounding the ball for the first Cru points of the scoreboard. Shortly after, a similar situation (and a very deft dummy from scrum-half Matt) saw hooker Reece barrel through two defenders for the a second try, neatly slotted by Sohei. Despite more efforts making a third seem likely, the whistle blew for the end of the first half.
Realising that the Gallic temper was starting to cause cracks in the defence, the boys in blue made a point of gently prodding the opposition into giving away penalties. This, along with fantastic speed on the part of the Cru backs, saw another try earned within a few minutes of play resuming. All France responded by redoubling their efforts, identifying weaknesses in the increasingly tired Crusaders, with scrummie Kaz marshalling the troops effectively to hold the line. After some struggle, the boys mounted a huge assault — prop Shota taking advantage of a penalty to crash through a few defenders, with back-and-forth pops between Tom Lister, Joe, and Jamie seeing Tom Woods earn another sky blue try.
It should be mentioned at this point that the penalty count on both sides was reaching astronomical proportions, as the ramifications of the new tackle laws made themselves clear. This is a point that all sides will have to reckon with, although we’d invite everyone to come and watch Frank lose his mind when he has to deal with them. Otherwise, the game was remarkably clean, one accidental leg-lock takedown aside.
While Taichi continued to target the lineouts effectively, the dark arts of the front row led to significant slowdown in play and accumulating exhaustion. In turn, this led to some breakdowns in the defence, which the All France backline were quick to exploit and gain a try of their own. Taiga and Hideki were thankfully on hand to make their Cru debuts, giving an immediate injection of energy that propelled the Cru to their final try of the day…and a spectacular missed kick from one-and-done Joe. With Gibbo then opening the floodgates, Andrew, Kotaro, and Benji put their fresh legs to great use, routing All France and bringing the game to a satisfying conclusion. The scorching heat died down; the first beers were opened, and the Cru were victorious in their first bout of the season.
With All France bringing pâté and the Cru on drinks duty, both sides enjoyed a small after-match function and wished each other well on their Shuto journeys, good sportsmanship winning the day. A huge set of thank-yous go out to all the supporters that ventured outside on such a brutal day — male, female, and canine alike — and gave us the energy to keep going.