by Travis Dixon It has been a long wait with many close calls and bitter disappointments, but on Saturday the Tokyo Crusaders broke the draught and won the MacFadyen Cup. It’s always the toughest match on the calendar and playing into a stiff, bitterly cold breeze in the first half this year would be no different. With the Cru wanting to capitalize on every chance they got, just ten minutes into the game Ken Kurihara made the rare decision to take a shot at goal from 40 metres out. It was a fine nudge, but held up just short in the breeze. This set the tone for the game as with intense physicality and intent from the outset, it was obvious points would be hard to come by. The Cru kept the pressure on with storming one-off runners, excellent ball retention, quick- taps and bursting runs through the centers. Tamiana Konrote’s showed his strength in mid- field and in an impressive individual play, bumped off numerous tacklers and stormed over the line for the first points of the game. Ken made the conversion. 7-0. The attacking in the first half was good, but the defense was outstanding. The Cru defended like savages, making every tackle and rushing off the line to put the YCAC under pressure. YCAC tried to play width, when perhaps up the guts was the way to go. That is testament to the Cru’s forward defense that we pushed them wide and they couldn’t convert. With the wind worth at least 10 points, the Cru were superb in keeping the YCAC scoreless in the first half. The ref blew his whistle for what we thought must be a water break, such was the pace of the game that the first half went by in an instant. With tails up and the wind at their backs, the Cru were confident going into the second half. But to YCAC’s credit, their defense was just as strong. They challenged at every break down, put Matt Beasley at half-back under continual pressure (which he handled admirably) and didn’t give an inch. Their defense was so strong that in the 42 nd minute of the game we witnessed something never seen before in Cru history – a drop kick. Ken dropped in the pocket and slotted an absolute beauty from 35 metres out. 10-0. Just two minutes later, the Cru were hard on attack again and with some slick passing through the hands and some hot-stepping, Ken scored in the corner. 15-0. But the YCAC fought back with a good individual try from their half-back which he converted. 15-7. Possession is always a vital factor in the Mac Cup, but the Cru struggled at times to build pressure as handling errors and turnovers cost them. It might have all been a clever strategy, though, as the tight five destroyed the YCAC scrum. I can’t remember seeing a game where our scrums, lineouts, clear-outs and counter-rucks were so dominant. While the backs made the most of the turnover ball they got, the credit has to go to the forwards. A few notable mentions are Man of the Match, Nico, who ran with venom, proving almost impossible to stop and giving us good go-forward when we needed it. Josh King was a beast in the scrums and just as impressive chasing runners and making tackles. Perennially underrated Frank Saffery put in some big hits and held up runners in the tackle, giving us multiple chances at turnovers. While the brawn got the lead, it would take the brains to keep it. Thanks to a few clever kicks, excellent handling and a string of penalties, the Cru were able to keep YCAC buried in their own half, unable to counter. Hugo Mestre stepped up and knocked over a penalty kick, easily clearing the bar by at least three or even four centimetres! This gave us some breathing room but we didn’t have to wait long. A few moments later the peculiar decision to go 30-minute halves worked in the Cru’s favour as the full-time whistle sounded. The Mac Cup was ours to be hoisted by our Captain, Matt Sparrow, the only player on the field to have played in the last victory. It was a tough, physical game, but played in great spirits. Thanks as always to the YCAC club for hosting the fixture, and, as always fielding a strong team. The Mac Cup serves as a reminder for both clubs the importance of rugby as an intensely physical individual and team challenge on the field and for the camaraderie it affords off it. Man of the Match Awards 5 – Nico 4 – Ken 3 – Josh 2- Rinta 1 – Hugo/Matt B On a personal note Having played the last 10 Mac Cups and winning only one, I wonder how many we would have won if I’d just sat out a few more! But seriously, thank you Cru for 11 wonderful seasons. I can’t tell you how happy I was to stand and watch you play such great rugby. More importantly, I am ecstatic to see a growing core group of new players being led by the established heart of the Cru. Thank you to the Crusaders Executives – without you we are just a team, but with you we are a club and a family. I am sad to say farewell but joyous to be able to go out on such a high note. See you in NZ soon for the next Cru Tour!

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