by Reece Morgan The Crusaders are a cursed bunch. For another year running, the weather gods saw fit to drop the spring warmth for a day, and assault the Akigase rugby pitch with biting wind and furious rainfall. Most Crusaders recoiled in horror; the British amongst us felt a warm nostalgia for the days of high school rugby. Nonetheless, the pull of meat and beer was too strong, and the squad soon descended on Nishi-Urawa station and its well-placed umbrella vending machine. Upon arrival at the pitch, it was clear that the other squads were slightly more sensible than us that morning, with a large chunk of our opposition contracting debilitating illnesses and realising that they had unmissable commitments. After some confusion, and Genta changing the running order for no clear reason, it was decided that the teams could borrow players from one another. All France and the Tokyo Gaijin joined forces; Otawa and Toda cycled between one another, and NS Ruggers found themselves bolstered by half the American military. Completely forgetting that they were supposed to have warmed-up, the Cru were hit hard by the NS Ruggers onslaught. Pinned down from the off, and too cold to run around, it was only a couple of minutes before the opposition breached our try line and took the first points of the game. As the wake-up call sounded, the Cru returned with renewed vigour – Tom Cocks enjoying his new placement in the centres – and a storming run from Foster saw their first try, Sonny Bill-ing the ball to Reece just before the try line. As NS Ruggers realised that the Cru were going to just plough through with the forwards all day, they turned their attention to breaking the rucks. However, returning scrum-half Steve Howden passed it out wide to Owen, who ran in and converted one of his own. Play resumed in much the same way. After several set-ups from Rob and Mighty Joe Young, a pick-and-go saw Reece barrel through the centre, only to be stopped shortly before the try line. Returning the favour from earlier, a reluctant pass to Foster saw the ball roll in for the third try of the day. At this point, the pace of 10s rugby finally caught up with the boys, and a classic Hirokatsu fumble saw NS Ruggers break down the wing for a second try of their own. After a quick bosh from Joel, Rob struck back by putting another try in for the Cru shortly before the final whistle. The question of ‘where the f**k have Junior and Yuuta gone?!’ was answered when Toda took the pitch, stealing our boys back. In punishment, we made them play immediately after they came off, and put them to task against All France and their Tokyo Gaijin support. Play was broadly similar to the NS Ruggers game, with Foster, Rob, and Good Joe putting in shifts around the pitch, Aurelien taking to second row like a duck to water, and Hiro running miles behind play trying to catch his breath and keep his ramen down. A shout-out must go to Jake here, making his Cru debut while on holiday from the States. For a mild-mannered and eternally smiling chap, he was ruthless in the tackle, flattening the All France backs and doing some mighty charges of his own. As the Cru racked up tries in quick succession, Jake found himself at the back of an overthrown lineout near the 5m line. Snatching it from the air and rolling some poor bloke over, he stormed in for a debut try with a grin that said ‘I’m just happy to be here’! Given the slightly devastated numbers of the other squads, we did our best to help out. Jake, Good Joe, and Jon Ball in particular put in big shifts for the opposition squads, as mercenary as the Crusaders of old. Big hits and big runs – the kind that, for some reason, rarely happen when they play with the Cru(!) – were rife that day, as the awful conditions slowed the opposition to a crawl. Cheers to everyone who helped out, and made sure that the games went smoothly. All six round-robin games had been played, and the finals had been set. Otawa would clash with NS Ruggers; All France would play the Gaijin, despite having ten men between them; and, of course, the Cru would take on the mighty Toda Over the Top for the Meat Cup itself. They would, but they didn’t. Despite the freezing rain and cold, the wizards standing at the BBQ pits had got two roaring fires going. The smell of coal and meat; the sudden appearance of beer; the warmth…it was too much to bear. With only a modicum of hesitation, it was unanimously decided that no-one cared about rugby any more, and everyone wanted to get a feed on. Jerry, Jon and Seth had outdone themselves, bringing everything needing for a kick-ass BBQ, even in the adverse weather. The raffle went off well, with some brilliant prizes on show; the Meat Guy’s burgers and sausages were a panacea to the masses, and everyone had a bloody good time. After deciding that the Meat Cup champion would be decided by a boat race, the Cru organised six of their finest lagernauts to take on Toda…who left without saying anything. The Crusaders were the 2017 Meat Cup champions, in the sweetest way – by default! After the party wound down, several brave souls made their way onto Ueno Hub, where Good Joe was forced to drink four Dynamite Kids in a row, Bad Joe woke up in a cold and empty Chofu station, and cocks were blocked. Temporarily. We’d like to thank the referees, All France, the Tokyo Gaijin, Toda Over the Top, Otawa and NS Ruggers for making the trip out on such an awful day, playing great rugby and immediately agreeing to choosing food over rugby. We hope to catch you boys next year too. Big thanks, of course, to all our sponsors and those who offered raffle prizes, for making it such a smooth event. Congratulations to the Meat Cup committee for pulling it off despite…well, everything. I think Sparrow put it best – I’m never doing this again. See you in 2018, gents!