*Sunday Nov. 2nd, Tatsumi, Koto, Tokyo*
On Sunday, AFRC played what should have been our 4th game of 2014 Shuuto League vs Zenkai Beer. Only that, because of bad weather and consecutive typhoons in September and October, our first games were postponed and our team did not play for a month.
Sunday’s game should have been our final game of SHUUTO but due to games 2 and 3 being postponed to later this month, it was only our second game of SHUUTO and our third of the new 2014-2015 after we won the deVere cup final in late August. The weather was perfect to play rugby and we had numbers (23 according to my count). Having said that and despite relatively good attendance at Thursday training (10-12 players), it was the first full team meeting in a month and it could have been a concern for team cohesion since not everyone is able to attend weekly training sessions @ Takadanobaba.
During the warm up, some of the AFRC veterans glanced accross Tatsumi field and quickly recognized a couple of familiar faces from the Tokyo Gaijin. They were lending a hand to Zenkai for this game (just like when we played Moccos in the deVere cup final in August). Some of us were a bit surprised (I must admit I was since the Gaijing play in Div.1!) but could not care less and went into our routine, 1 hour from kick-off. General warm-up, a few drills, then forwards & backs practised separately.
Finally the whole team got together for 10 min with some sets including rucks and final tackle before a final rousing speech by captain Max 3 min going into the game. We were red hot ready! Zenkai kicked the game off. AFRC was playing the first half with the wind behind us. Our intentions were clear from the onset. Pierre Gompertz, our prop collected the opening kick and went on with a big charge down the field. It took a few Zenkai to stop him but our support was there to keep the ball alive. It went on with a couple of phases on the left side of the field before Baptiste, our young left winger was tackled into touch on our 40m mark. The line-out was followed by the first knock on from Zenkai.
The scrum that followed was a good set piece and one charge and a ruck later, a skipped pass from Fumio and an interval run from Ryo sent Matsumura-san to score our first try 5′ into the game. Fumio could not convert the try. AFRC 5-0 Zenkai. On the restart, we regained possesion and after a few phases where rucks intensified, Fumio, our flyhalf, went for the long-kick deep on the left wing accross the field for Baptsite and Victor to put pressure on the Zenkai full back. Victor charged down the field and he beat the Zenkai full back and also Baptiste to it as he scored his 4th try so far this season. Fumio could not convert the try. After 10min, it was AFRC 10-0 Zenkai.
We were playing like in a dream with offloads (while at every training we insist not to offload…) having scored on each occasion when we were going into the Zenkai 22. 5 min later, our backs were at it again well orchestrated by a skipped pass from Fumio to Ryo to Victor who fended off one opponent to score our third try, his second of the day. in the right corner. AFRC 15-0 Zenkai. Zenkai were taking the heat but they were signs that they contest was not over yet with powerful charges from their bigs at speed around the rucks. Still at early stage they were met by a true contest with our own bigs and backs taking them down relentlessly and not giving them any gaps.
To the opposite, we were contesting well the rucks and on each turnover ball, we were making serious headway into their territory. On the 20 min mark, we had another occasion who saw our own Dan, positioned at the center dummy his opponent and get in a gap falling short of scoring a try. The unsuing combination, pass and offload to Baptiste fell short and we knocked it on. The game was going a bit in all directions. It was nice to watch from the side but clearly neither team could hold that rythm for two halves. On the 25 min mark, after another Zenkai Gaijing was tackled down and knocked it on, a scrum was awarded to AFRC. Behind our front 5 AFRC had a great launching pad on the 40m line of AFRC territory to launch a set attack. First, Erwan our No.8 went to fix more defenders. Onda-san our No.9 followed and the backs combined.
The attack spread accross the left section of the pitch to get away as soon as possible from the strong but slow 3rd row of ZENKAI and after two consecutive offloads from Baptiste and Fumio going back inside, Ryo went in the gap and ran in our 3rd try. Fumio converted Ryo’s try and AFRC was leading confortably 22-0 after 25min. In the last 10 min of the first half, we started losing our focus, relaxed our minds or paid a bit some efforts in the tackling and defensive duties and our organization started showing defensive lapses. Give the credit to ZENKAI as well who had been punished everytime so far. we had been surgical and the game was certainly more balanced than what was the 22-0 score line then. We started being penalized in rucks. There was a strong sense of resurgence in the Zenkai team and they went with their bigs faster and stronger to test our defense. They scored two consecutive tries in 5 minutes by tapping quick penalties while AFRC players had not withdrawn 10 m and were totally disorganized (the famous “jigsaw” line of defense!!!). Then it was taking 3-4 AFRC players to take down one of the ZENGAI forwards (they loved our chest massages!) who had run 10 min and after 3-4 phases, they scored back to back tries. After a brilliant opening 25 min which might have been just too good to be true, half time came as a relief but also with concerns. Max and Kosuke explained we add to communicate better to fix the gaps.
The score was 22-10 but clearly the momentum had swung. With a 23 player strong squad, we made some changes in our squad. Some will argue we made too many at the same time but some players also got injured and some players also needed to breathe after an intense first half…the second half had us playing against the wind. We were forced to defend for the most part of the second half with everybody trying to take the Zenkai down to slow down their progress into our territory and closer to our in-goal. They insisted with their bigs and went on and on with rucks and takin advantage of the wind on kicks and penalties. We were often penalized and had to give away territory and possession for not releasing the ball when we had it or not releasing our opponents after tackling them.
Gaps were offered to Zenkai who were not asking for anything else. sniffing blood and anxiety maybe in our ranks. Many decisions from the ref. were contestable and were contested by some of our players (at least on the bench if not the field) but alas when the whistle goes, the only thing you can do is get back on your feet and run back 10. Unfortunately this added to the confusion and Zenkai scored another try after a quick tap in AFRC 22. Score was 22-15. 5 minutes later, Zenkai was back at it again. With the wind in their favor and Yamagen at the boot, any penalty awarded to them in their own 22 was sending us back deep in our own territory. With 15 min on the clock and despite some valliant tackles, Zenkai scored another try.
Still they could not convert and were within striking distance (22-20). Around Max and Kosuke, the guys decided to play simple and keep the ball in offense and seal holes in the defense. They held it well for a few minutes but Zenkai charged down the field once more. Another penalty was awarded to them. then another then another. The yellow card was not far… In a big tackle and contest, one Zenkai went down with a dislocated shoulder. The play continued and after the ref. whistled yet again another penalty against AFRC, Paul, the injured lad was attended to and left the field. This was a first defining moment: Zenkai could have kicked the penalty to take the three points and take the lead since they were 5 m left of the posts. Maybe they knew the score then, maybe they did not and wanted to have a go at us after scoring 4 unaswered tries of their own. Anyway they decided to challenge our defense 5m away from the try line with their bigs. We had regrouped and we held tight. One ZENKAI player went into our in-goal but a brave AFRC player went under and held him up. No try. That was close. We were 5min from time. On the reset and the ruck that followed the scrum, we turned the ball over and our backs combined to race down the field. ZENKAI had also consumed a lot of energy in these 10 phases going at us.
Ryo raced down the field, side stepped the full back and scored a liberating try. His second of the day. Fumio converted and were 9 points clear. AFRC 29-20 Zenkai. On the kick off, AFRC regrouped and played tight. The game was played on the halfway line with Zenkai defenders taking down AFRC backs. As ZENKAI fumbled the ball in the turnover and in the complete disorganization Victor raced through, dribbled the ball 40m and scored the final try between the posts after a few lucky bounces, his third try of the day. Fumio converted and iced the score line in favor of AFRC. AFRC 36-20 ZENKAI. AFRC is top of Div.2 with 2 wins and 2 bonus points. This game was a story of resilicience and episodes. We had ours and they had theirs. We were very close to lose it all at the end but eventually won it through heroic defense when it mattered most. Aside from the victory which means that we are still in contention for the div. 2 playoffs. the lesson to remember ahead of Sunday’s game is that “it is not over until the fat lady sings”. *Man of the match award* goes to FUMIO for his orchestration of a superb back line on the day. Runners up are Ryo, Victor and Pierre Gompertz for their respective contribution. (For the record, man of the match award went to Victor for Game vs Moccos and Ryo for Shuuto Game 1 vs DANDELIONS).
*Race to awards:* The season is still very long and we should care first about our team results (3 Wins- 0 Losses) but here is a sneak peek: *Race to MVP:* 1 ex- Fumio/Ryo/Victor: 7 points 4 ex- Onda/Pierre/Endo: 2 points *Race to try line*, 1 ex- Ryo (+2) / Victor (+3): 6 tries each 3 ex- Onda/Endo/Dan/Matsunaga/Max/Matsumura/Fumio: 1 each *Note:* After 3 games, Ryo and Victor have scored 6 tries each. Last season record of 10 tries held by Ryo is likely to go to ashes if either one (if not both) can keep the pace for the remaining of the season ! *Iron Man race:* 1 ex- Lawrence / Victor: 14 points each. 3 ex: Matthieu Pasini, Fredrik Holm and Jerome: 12 points. (Training = 1 pt, Game 2 pts, Event = 3 pts). last but not least, *This week schedule:* Thursday 7pm-9pm: training @ TAKADANOBABA Sunday: Game vs BAKU @ YANOKUCHI That’s all folks, Have a good week ahead. see you soon, Jphi