by Stewart Henwood The 11th of December, 2016. The ‘final’ of the Shuto League 1st Division. The top two teams were to battle it out for the honour of being champion…and we, the Tokyo Crusaders RFC, were one of those two teams; last year’s nemesis, Koryo RFC, the other. After a longer-than-usual wait to see the points table posted, it had become clear that the Cru had played themselves into honours contention, standing at 24 points: second place, behind Koryo on 28. A maximum of 7 points were up for grabs, and we had to take at least 5 of those while denying Koryo even 1. A tall order at the best of times… We knew what we had to do, and it was a very switched-on and pumped-up bunch that assembled at Tatsumi Station around 12:30. The mood of the day seemed to be ‘go hard, or go home’! This writer must confess to turning up late to the 14:20 KO at Tatsumi Ground (held up in Yurakucho getting his first ever ‘smart phone’), just in time to see Jim A’s 2nd try on the 16th minute, his first being just 9 minutes into the game. That’s BS! It can’t be..but yes, the sideline assured me that we were already 2 tries up. Koryo had just had two quick tries scored against them and they seemed to be a bit shell-shocked. And then it was 3 (Jim A again, for his hat-trick only 23 minutes into the game); then it was 4 (Matthew F), and then it was 5 (Keita S) just on half-time. Koryo were trying, but the magic had gone, and they never recovered. Spectating from the sideline were Cru stalwarts Paul S, who had just flown in from HonKers and come directly to the ground, and OB Ryuji M, who both noted that the Cru were having ‘one of those games’ Who stood out? Who was the hero doing the damage for the Cru? No-one in particular. The whole team were playing out of their skins. The front row of Reece M, An Y-S, and James C had gained ascendancy in the scrum. The locks in Frank S and Tom C were making powerful breaks up the field and creating ‘go-forward’. Not to mention the back row of Rob G, Brett P-S, and Matthew F, who were all over the place in support. Basically, support and urgency were the factors that were putting Koryo to the sword. Incredibly, the Cru were up 33-zip at half-time thanks to the kicking of Matt S, who had put away 4 out of 5. So far, so good; mission accomplished. But a half still to go. We had plenty of players on the sideline eager to get on and show their stuff, but that age-old mantra stuck in the mind: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Only 1 half-time change. 15:12 saw the restart, and just 1 minute later Jim A waltzes over for his 4th of the day. This is testament to the luxury of having a halfback who runs the support lines of a centre. The 2nd half saw the backs come to the fore with tries to Dylan N-M, whose jinking runs, sideways, backwards(?), and all over, were confusing the hell out the opposition, not to mention his own players. Another try to Keita, who seemed to be frustratingly ‘cooling his heels’ on the wing, but will be remembered more for his amazing pass to…where? And to put the final nail in the coffin, a deserved try to Tomohiro T, who coming into the centres at half-time had up until that moment been known as the guy who had knocked on several times with the open line in sight. White-line fever, or just desperate Koryo defense? Speaking of defence…how do you play a team like Koryo and hold them to zero? Massive hits by Joe F out in the centres, Lawrence M and Jim A shutting down their No. 10, wings Gaet C/Keita and Dylan and good ol’ ‘safe-hands’ Tsukasa K at the back shutting down Koryo’s runs wide. They couldn’t score through our backs, and they certainly didn’t look like scoring through our forwards. Replacements were made in the second half, but the guys coming off the bench, Tavis S, Edward D, and Chris ‘dazzle-the-opposition-front-row-with-his-teeth’ Ford slotted in seamlessly. Final score, an amazing 59-0 with Matt S slotting 3 out of 4 in the 2nd half. We had taken the maximum of 7 points, Koryo had come away with none, and we stood clearly atop the League with 31 points as undisputed 2016 CHAMPIONS! Not that it was all plain sailing, there was plenty of silly stuff to go around… How about Rob getting away with a high tackle only to be smashed a split-second later? Lawrence’s atrocious kick into touch (did it in fact go backwards)? Brett tackling Reece instead of the opposition, and Frank then pulling him out of a ruck thinking he was a Koryo player? Even Koryo bizarrely threw the ball out directly into touch. Our vote for Koryo’s MVP went to their No.10, and theirs went to our No. 8 Matthew Foster. 321s were : 5 points – Jim A, 4 – Matthew F, 3 – Brett P-S, 2 – Lawrence M, 1 – Joe F, Reece M, Tom C and James C. The aftermatch was held in the usual place when we play at Tatsumi, the Dan Mariya Izakaya, one station back. The Pub with the nomihoudai and the peeing-metre game in the urinal. Needless to say, good-natured shenanigans followed, with everyone but “Don’t you #$&# dare!” Gibbo losing their shirt pockets. A new ‘game’ was introduced where everyone had their scalps stabbed with toothpicks to see if they really would stand up…WHY?! And to top all that off, outside the HUB, some random guy ‘encouraged’ his girlfriend to kiss the rather large dildo that now seems to be present at all major drinking sessions. Seriously, we should have got her number.