38 – 17 Tokyo Crusaders RFC – Setagaya RFC Referee: MR SEIJI KANETSUKA

By James Payne They say that a wise man once built his house upon the rock. I would like to go one better, and say that an even wiser man has built his shanty on the river next to the Edogawa rugby ground. This is because that man (whoever he is, I am confident he is not a frequent reader of these match reports) had front row seats to see the Tokyo Crusaders play their final game for 2014. Leading up to this friendly fixture, there was some nervous chatter centered on the drain of some key playmakers for the New Zealand Ambassador’s Cup scheduled the same day. Fortunately, these concerns were allayed, when a solid contingent of 21 Crusaders players arrived ready, willing and able at the ground. This is a testament to the depth that has been cultivated at the club. It was heartening to see a number of old faces which many of us had thought we had lost some time ago, whether it be to their home countries, naval skirmishes in the South China Sea, or venereal disease. Two such gentlemen (who could easily have been lost to any of the above) were big Brandon ‘is that another tattoo?’ Fought and Brandon ‘Ricky’ Rogers. It was great to have them back. The opponent was Setagaya RFC. These boys looked hungry for the win, and were keen to spoil what has been in many respects a good first half of the season for the Cru. The first half started well despite Cru losing the toss and kicking off against the (gale force typhoon) wind. However, a quick turnover saw the ball secured by the men in turquoise, with hot shot American Ian Miller crossing over 3 minutes from kick off. The man has flair, and was not afraid to show it off to the appreciative, albeit smallish, crowd. Miller was able to get over again in the 12th minute, assisted by some creative play in the centres. The lads kept it together in the scrums, with some solid hooking from Yusei Shmoda anchored by Fought and Ryuji Matsuzawa as props. The halfback Roy Surita scored a try two minutes later and with Rogers’ second conversion (2 from 3 at that point) the Cru had developed a nice lead. Steve Howden at second five would score next, but it would take a few minutes of attack against a Setagaya defence which was developing momentum. This momentum, accompanied by some silly penalties given away from the Cru, saw Setagaya score their first try 29 minutes from kick off. This came as a bit of a disappointment to the Cru, as at that point the game had been in their favour. The frustration manifested itself in a few more penalties against Cru, with this writer being at the receiving end of a yellow card for not rolling away. Now not to sound sour about it, but you should know that the person whom this writer was accused of not rolling away from was Gen Hirano, who was kind enough to be playing opposing hooker for Setagaya, so the desire to roll away was in actual fact palpable. Unfortunately, the referee did not see it that way. Nonetheless, even with one player down, Miller was able with the support of some excellent work from Matt ‘Captain Jack’ Sparrow and Howden on his inside to get his hat-trick in the dying minutes of the second half. The half-time score was 38 – 7. This was a healthy lead, however some of the boys were frustrated with the number of penalties being handed out, which, right or wrong, had diminished their effectiveness on the field. Following some substitutions, the boys took to the field again still one man down. Straight from the whistle, the second half presented additional challenges for Cru. The penalty count was high (both for and against), and Setagaya took advantage of their, on average, better fitness to maintain possession and run over two tries in the half. These came at the 42nd and 60th minute marks. Between these two tries, the Cru were down another man when Rogers delivered an overly enthusiastic tackle and was sent to the bin for 10 minutes. According to his version of events, the opposing player had been a bit ‘touchy feely’ during a few earlier tackles: an accusation which having seen the man in action I can conclude is probably correct. Setagaya threw everything they had at the Cru. However, despite the two tries and the penalties, we were able to withstand the attack. A factor contributing to this was the good talk on the field, especially by Sparrow who hadn’t looked that angry since he was liberated of his pocket money during his first weekend out in Roppongi. Also the lock combination of Chris Cornute and visiting Englishman James Shaw meant that the lineout generally fell in Cru’s favour. Cornute’s high jump skills came in handy when he was able to steal the ball during opposition lineouts. And good defence from all players, including some excellent tackles on the wings by Clive Callaway and Sho Nakashima meant the score stayed low. A final try by newcomer Sho Nakashima on debut brought the final score to 38 -17. It was a bit of a Forrest Gump ‘STOP!’ moment for the young fella, who as we understand was playing his first game of rugby ever and had to be directed as to when to place the ball. Good stuff. The referee for the match was Kanetsuka san, who oversaw a penalty count of 6 for Cru, and 15 against. Special mention must go to Ian Miller for his hat-trick. Also to Gen, Brandon and Domingo Rodriguez who played for the opposition. The MVP as voted bythe Cru for Setagaya was Nakajima san. For Setagaya, their vote went to big Chris Cornute, who played a gutsy and spirited game, despite turning up in basketball shorts. That turned out to be the only option available, as the guy has legs the size of 44 gallon drums. The 321s were 5 points to Miller, 4 points to Sparrow, 3 points to Galdric ‘come on mate, you much prefer playing with us than those YCAC chumps’ Porta, 2 points to James Payne (surely a technical error) and 1 point to Cornute. The man with the clipboard was Evan Hitchman, who asserted himself early as a sideline manager not to be trifled with. Sean Gibson was present to provide moral support to the Cru, and was able to call upon his wealth of experience in matters such as overcoming stiff opposition, effective ball penetration, and knowing how to pound through the gaps. His presence, if ‘only to watch’, was appreciated. The after-match function was held at everybody’s favourite standing bar near Koiwa station, where the beer and crinkle cut chips (sorry Travis) were consumed with reckless abandon. No torn shirts this time though, which was nice. The MVP as voted by the Cru for Setagaya was their No. 10, Nakajima san. So all in all, a good game which ended in a victory for the Crusaders. But, well done to Setagaya who played a tough game and never gave up. On a personal note, this will be this writers last game for the Cru as he is off to the UK. I was lucky enough to be made Captain for the game, and really appreciated the gesture (despite my knowledge of the rules being shaky at best). It has been a great year with the Cru, and I encourage anyone new to Japan to consider giving the boys a call to have a run. You will not regret it. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! James Payne

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