By Kyal Hill I still haven’t gotten used to putting on sun screen before a rugby game—as apparently hadn’t a patchy pink Marc Sherratt who played in the morning heat last week—but the sun and blue skies did make it a sweet day for rugby. The 2:30 kick off was also welcomed by those who had gotten up with the birds for the last game. Not everyone was smiling, however, as Safety Assistant for the day Aiko Watanabe was less than impressed with Galdric “You’re supposed to wash these?” Porta’s forgetting to clean the water bottles and Kyal “Oh, so that little pink bag by the door wasn’t mine” Hill’s forgetting the med kit. But we did get some comedic relief when in the pre-game brief Ref Yoshioka asked us to help remove the gravel from the ground. As Frank Saffery remarked (out of ear shot of the Ref) “there’s more gravel than grass on this ground!” (not to mention a couple of concrete grates). All in all, though, as far as Crusaders game days go, it was a relatively uneventful morning. 20 rugby-hardened Crusaders turned up for the game, but with Tooley sticking to sub management duties, Travis Dixon and Seth Robson taking a well-deserved rest on the sideline, and Benjamin Kunde wisely deciding to let his still-tender broken leg heal, we were left with only one sub for two 30-minute halves. Nevertheless, any concern anyone had for a full dusty game in 25-degree heat dissipated when Tooley reminded us that “there will be beer afterwards.” And so it began. Crusaders received the kick off and the forwards crashed it up the guts. Halfback Roy Surita, on debut for the Cru, worked the ball out wide and in short time the backs worked their magic, putting strong wingman Chris Ekstrom around the opposition’s defense to notch the first of 7 Crusaders tries for the day. Taking over conversion duties from the usual but absent Evan Hitchman, Brandon ‘Ricky’ Rogers had a cracker of a day with the boot as well as on the wing, kicking 14 points for a 100% success rate for the day, at least a couple of which were from out wide. It all seemed too easy: 2 minutes down, 7-0 to us. But what happens when you think that? You start to play exactly the kind of rubbish Trav told us pre-game not to play. A loose pass went astray shortly after the re-start and a Cru knock-on led to the first scrum of the day, 20 meters out. Cru forwards came in with an anxious hunger for a good shove. “They’ve probably got us in the forwards,” Frank had said in the pre-game warm up, as we’d noted that they could have a size and experience advantage. So it was a shock to hear the opposition’s plea for non-contested scrums. “You’re kidding, right?!” So instead of a bone-crunching set and meat-grinding shove, we locked heads for sweaty neck kisses and they spun the ball wide. Our defense held for the first few phases, until we conceded a penalty under the posts 5 meters out (not rolling away or not letting go; I couldn’t hear, I was too busy holding on to the meat pack I’d just brought down… sorry guys…). Quick tap and they spun the ball further wide, scoring in the melee of our disorganization. Trav comes out with some water and a rev up. “That’s exactly what I was telling you not to do!” We all knew it. We didn’t need to hear it. But hearing it dug it in just that much deeper. We gave them a short re-start and they seemed surprised, unwilling to take the ball, as it bounced around amid a pack of bumbling bodies. We claimed it, and star fullback Roy Yorke stepped and weaved in for the retaliation try. 10 minutes down, 14-7 to us. It was like the scent of blood to a shark; now we were really hungry for it. From there, Cru forwards were happy to direct all their energy into crashing it up, backs tightened up their passes, and phase after phase we punched it up and spun it sharply through safe hands. 10 meters out from the line, bang in front of the posts, the call was to move it left. Big man Macer ‘Van’ Allen, Cru no. 8 for the day, heard the call, but insisted on going right. He must’ve smelled something, and his premonition paid off, as the big man crashed heedlessly through opposition forwards for a powerful try. 21-7. 10 minutes was now the average between Cru tries. But the backs weren’t happy with that. 3 minutes later, after a few sweet passes out wide from the re-start, Ricky lightening-feet Rogers out classed their wing and full back, notching up the 4th Cru try. 28-7. 5 minutes to half time. We wanted one more, just to slide the dagger in a bit further. Jonas Hult was hungry for it, too. So hungry, in fact, he couldn’t hear his team mate’s screaming call for the ball on the re-start. Jonas ran the right angle, positioned himself perfectly under the ball, but unfortunately on top of his team mate’s toes. They crashed arms and shoulders, and he spilled it forward. Our defense held for several phases as the clock ticked slowly down, but at the last second they got lucky, or we got sloppy; it didn’t matter: they scored. The conversion was no good, but it was the hit back they were looking for. 28-12. Keen to prove the first half would not be repeated, NTT Hibiya came out hard in the second half right from the get-go. We seemed caught on the back foot, and they ran through a skillful try on the wing only 3 minutes in. Add the conversion, and it was now 28-19. It was still our game, but it was threatening to be a very different game to the one we had fought for in the first half. 15 minutes of solid, relentless rugby followed. Their big no. 8 made some powerful barnstorming runs up the middle, quickly earning our respect and ultimately the nomination for MVP. Their backs were spreading the ball wide well now. But our defense held, and their attack failed, as their backs clashed with a solid Cru defensive line and conceded a knock-on. From there we re-gathered, fed the backs clean ball, and put Ricky around for try no. 5. After the longest scoreless period of the game, it was the physical and mental battle that we needed to win. 35-19. Determined to make the rest of the game ours, we took the re-start cleanly, hit it up, secured the ball, and worked it to the backs. Chris powered through one man, then another, and with a swift step and burst of acceleration past the third, he was away. 3 minutes between tries, and we were 42-19. The re-start was short, but we were ready. The ball quickly found its way to the backs, and then in what was undoubtedly the play of the day, the backs displayed their awesome skill and finesse in bursting through gaps, drawing in opposition tacklers, and linking beautiful passes to put Ricky Rogers, 3,2,1 star of the day and opposition-nominated MVP, in a gap for a 50-meter dash to score the 7th Cru try, and his 3rd of the game. 49-19. NTT Hibiya made a valiant attempt to regain some dignity in the last 8 minutes, but it wasn’t to be. Solid Cru defense held to the end. Making those conbini beers afterwards taste even better. Special thanks to Cristina Andres Barrao, Incha Robson, and Aiko’s 3 lovely friends for turning up to support, and to another Cru friend who ran water for us. Rugby players alone do not make a team, and we are grateful for your support and help. The penalty count was 6 for, 10 against—“not too bad” according to Tooley—and the ref was pleased overall with the game, mainly only commenting that he had a hard time keeping up with all the running we made him do. Thanks also to NTT Hibiya RFC for a physical game played in good spirit, and for really teaching us the importance of securing ball in the ruck. We’d definitely enjoy a re-match! Lastly, cheers to Galdric, who did a great job on debut as captain, keeping us focused and only trying to change the ref’s mind once (I think). A great game, and a great day out. Up the Cru!