23 October 2011: Kanto League – YCAC v Toda

Toda 47 – YCAC 22 (Tries: Michael Griffin, Chur Arts, Sam Stephens. Conversions: Ben Duncan, Ben Patu. Penalty: Ben Duncan)

“This morning I woke up with a little stiffy, with a slight ball-ache but had a smile on my face”. If you read your emails on Monday, you will recall that this was the first line from YCAC’s motivational guru Aran “Del” Delaney’s sermon following Sunday’s game against Toda over the Top. It was a somewhat unusual introduction to the pep talks to which we have become so accustomed after our league matches but it personified Del’s performance in YCAC’s first loss since the club embarked on the arduous road through the East Japan championships three years ago.

The match was billed as the unofficial curtain-raiser to the rugby world cup final being played later that day. The fact that the crowd was mainly comprised of Toda’s wives and girlfriends (WAGS) did little to dampen the teams’ spirits but actually turned out to be a cunning ploy to distract YCAC during its warm-up. It should also be noted that several YCAC regular players were absent due to their homosexual (and perhaps racial) desire to watch all black men in the flesh in New Zealand. These circumstances meant YCAC went into the game as firm underdogs.

Right from kick-off a high-tempo pace was set and that remained throughout the 80 minutes. YCAC drew first blood in the first minutes with a well-taken penalty kick but it was soon giving blood when YCAC’s captain Dean”o” Stallard received a nasty cut to his eye from the oppo’s Tongan missile. For the first time in years, YCAC was on the receiving end of some Pacific Islands’ fury and the aforementioned missile also unleashed several other big hits early in the game which clearly rattled YCAC. With Deano out of the game and off to hospital, the YCAC forwards lost momentum through the middle of the first half until Del stepped up. Sometimes referred to as the joker of the pack, Del took a star turn as the ace of clubs and produced a sublime mix of aggression, counter-rucking and tackling to almost single-handedly keep the opposition forwards at bay.

However, despite Del’s best efforts, Toda’s well-drilled backs (and a big fat prop on a 20 metre charge) took full advantage of some non-existent YCAC defence and went into the break carrying a healthy 33-8 lead. The score line at that time was not a true reflection of the battle and YCAC went into the second stanza with confidence that the wind at their backs would help reverse the damage on the scoreboard.

YCAC’s spirited comeback resulted in the team enjoying the majority of possession and territory but it did not result in enough try-scoring opportunities to ever challenge Toda’s lead. The forwards showed glimpses of galvanising into a unit and displayed several fine driving mauls from line-outs and continually recycled possession at ruck-time to great effect. The revised midfield of Mike “Griffo” Griffin and Ben “the Tokyo tan” Montgomery also combined well to produce a number of strong runs and resolute defence. Starved of possession and on the backfoot, Toda resorted to kicking at almost every opportunity; a stark contrast to the counter-attacking tactics they employed in the first half.

As the match wore on, Toda emptied its fresh-faced bench to inject new enthusiasm but such actions were never going to work for YCAC given that its three backs reserves had a combined age of over 120. On the contrary to playing, those three backs spent most of the game finding sunny spots on the sideline to warm their blood above freezing. When the final whistle did blow with the score at 47-22, the YCAC “modern day warriors” (quote Del) were well beaten but could take solace in their determined second half effort and the knowledge that Toda’s WAGS were staying for the aftermatch function.

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