By Rob Costelloe,
With the scorching days of the long Tokyo summer slowly fading, the Crusaders made the
trudge out to the banks of the Edogawa River for the 2 nd game in their Shuto League title
In what has become an increasingly regular sight to the squad, rather than being met by a
verdant spot of lush green, we were faced with a pitch that can only be described as dirt.
Resembling an undeveloped piece of brownfield, the edges of the pitch were laced with
pebbles and rubble – perfect for ripping open knees and shearing away skin. Thankfully a
match finishing off when we arrived meant the middle was softened up…slightly. The going
was definitely firm in horse-racing parlance.
The warm-up was a balance of running through moves whilst trying not to knacker ourselves
out before the game had even begun. However heads and where they were at were a
concern. Having last played Hozen RFC two years ago, they were now an unknown entity.
We knew Covid and squad departures had gutted their ranks but the thumping we received
from them on the previous occasion should have given us pause to be on our guard. It
seems not as an overly relaxed tone would certainly go out the window at match time.
Right from kick-off, Hozen came at us with ferocious physicality, size and speed. You could
almost hear the chorus of Cru brains clicking as we realised we were in for a tough game
and certainly not the relaxed run around we had fallen into a trap of thinking.
Some smart kicking from Matt Beasley at No.9 and tight phases of keeping the ball with the
forwards, including from Gibbo who was rolling back the years in the 2 nd row, meant we
made some good inroads into the opposition half in the first ten minutes. In a huge
statement of intent, we were able to get the shove on against the Hozen pack on their own
5-meter, turning the screw and driving over the line for a try by Luke Mathers on the flank, a
man who is making a massive impression on the club in these early days of his Cru career.
Converted by our Spanish dancer at full-back, Jaime DeAndres, the Cru were feeling pumped
and ready to build on their early platform.
What followed for basically the rest of the match cannot be described as anything other
than a war of attrition. Two sides in the trenches coming at each other with everything they
have but not giving a yard. The Cru pack provided a solid platform at the line-out and scrum,
including some impressive yards made by the Turkish Terrier Sam Catling in the back row,
which kept Hozen on the back foot and scrambling to defend. But defend they did.
Coming up into our line at speed made big challenges for the Cru backs. 50/50 passes were
being thrown or we were shut down in the middle of the field, starving the speedsters on
our wings – Kyohei Yamaoka and Taro Hasumi – of ball and space. The frustration showed,
with voices yapping back to the referee here and there and small signs of discontent within
the ranks. Hozen were also brutal at the breakdown, challenging for the ball at rapid speed
which resulted in too many penalties being pinged against us – a powerful lesson to take into future matches and emphasizing the importance of not getting isolated and supporting
the ball carrier at all costs.
And we gave it back just as hard. The pod system we’ve been practicing week in week out
kept the Hozen back line surrounded by Cru shirts, shutting down their efforts to get the ball
wide and keeping their powerful centers from building up momentum to break through.
Captain Brett Reid, taking his years of experience in the centers to the keystone No. 8
position at the back of the pack, made powerful pick-ups from the back of the scrum,
getting over the gain-line, and staying on his feet to eat up extra yards. It seems he’s found
the position he was born to play.
As the game wore on, the structure and sharp decision-making we’ve been building really
started to show. Sharp communications between Beasley and Sohei Okamoto gave clarity
and punch to the backs, supported by a better platform of clean ball at the breakdown by
the Cru pack. Things really started to gel in the last few minutes, with multiple phases in the
forwards sucking in the opposition before releasing the ball down the line for a majestic
finish in the corner by Jaime, and the added bonus of a clean conversion through the
uprights. It all suddenly seemed so easy, but the final whistle meant further silky work from
the Cru would have to wait.
Final score – 14-0
Crusaders 14 (Tries: Mathers L., DeAndres J., Conversions: DeAndres J. 2/2)
Hozen RFC 0
Sam Catling 5
Luke Mathers 5
Matt Beasley 4
Takuto Suzuki 3
Jaime DeAndres 2
Sohei Okamoto 1
Most Valuable Players
Crusaders MVP (as voted by Hozen) – Brett Reid
Hozen MVP (as voted by Crusaders) – Ry Yamaguchi