To put into perspective the dire refereeing - before the match even began, the ref said 'I've refereed your team (us foreigners) before, and you're always offside at the ruck.' Guess what the first penalty was for? I don't know the exact penalty count, but in the first half we had all of two penalties awarded to us, with over a dozen against. We were penalised for having hands in the ruck, to then be penalised for not retreating back ten metres, continually. At one point we marched back thirty metres off the back of consecutive penalties while the ball was in play for around two seconds at a time. Whenever we got into their half, the referee penalised us back onto our own line. The criminality of the situation was exemplified by one incident where an opposition winger dropped the ball over the line; he was a foot and a half above the ground. The referee awarded the try.
Imagine being so bitter, so unfathomably racist, that your only outlet is to screw over a bunch of foreigners, just to make yourself feel better. What is wrong with these people? All that pent up nationalism manifests in bizarre ways.
The only advantage the opposition had was in the scrum. They were dominant and our pack struggled. Ironically the ref kept giving them penalties during scrumtime too, the only part of the game where they didn't need the help. To credit our forwards, by the end of the game they were overcoming the opposition, and by the sixtieth minute the platform was even. The lineout wasn't great, but whenever we won the ball the referee gave them a penalty for something anyway, so it was a pretty pointless endeavor.
The first half was a litany of contrivances designed to destroy the morale of our team. It was a farce. In my experience, in all the games I've played here and in England, this is by far the worst abuse of refereeing power I've ever seen. It was pathetic, immature and racist bias. It was everything rugby should strive not to be. Sepp Blatter would have been proud of this moron, that's how bad it was. I don't want to keep dwelling on this as my pulse will soar and my veins will burst, but please keep in mind the incredible advantage our opposition held throughout.
So anyway, the game proper began much later than previously appointed, with an eleven O'clock meeting. Somehow the message wasn't passed to everyone however, and there were a few who turned up at seven in the morning. I probably would have gone home, to be fair to those who stuck around.
Before the match began, we had a referee meeting to laboriously describe the game of rugby in all its aspects. This meeting began with the aforementioned warning, and varied dread and foreboding from the assembled foreigners. It was obvious we were going to be screwed over.
So the match began, to a penalty against us for being white, and black, and yellow, and every shade between. Then another penalty for being non-yellow. Then another penalty to ensure we were on our line for five minutes. At which point they spread it wide and the winger dropped the ball. First try for the opposition. They were mandara rugby club, if you fancy hitting this link and letting them know that they're the worst kind of disgusting, cheating, xenophobic scum.
The second penalty barrage came from the next kickoff, some number of minutes into the match. They had our scrum on the back-foot and just pushed us over our own line. Prior to this the referee had given them a penalty for the scrum wheeling 90 degrees on their own put-in (which should give us the ball), then given them a penalty for an early engage by us, then given them a penalty for our team not being back ten metres, then given them a scrum because they knocked on.
After this fiasco we had a period of holding them back in defence. At this point I had done nothing all game, so when they finally kicked it over to me (playing at full-back) I was delighted. I took the ball up through two defenders (both were either side of me), scything through them like so much hot knife - handed off another and as I was tackled, off-loaded to one of my teamates. He then took it up, did the same and the third receiver jogged over the line for a try. At all points I expected the referee to blow his whistle to ensure we were denied, but he refrained.
So many performances are built upon strong forward work and set-piece play, but broken field and counter-attacks were definitely our allies in this match. That's not to disparage the immense effort of the forwards, it's simply more difficult to penalise open, broken play. Every time we hit a ruck the referee deemed it illegal, and every time they hit a ruck the referee deemed it so legal, it somehow made us illegal in the process.
Immediately after we scored, the referee set about cheating them to another two tries. I don't know how they happened, and frankly it's irrelevant.
We went into the second half with a deficit of either 5 tries to two, or four to one. I'm not sure. Early in the second half (I think) I broke through their backs and managed to evade almost everyone, I passed it to my outside man only to realise that the guy who was in the middle of tackling me had slipped off. In passing it back I allowed them to tackle that guy, when I was clear under the posts. I should have had more confidence in myself to take it through. The flip-side, of course, is that missed tackle might not have been, and I would have been selfish and stupid.
That particular break was actually extremely fulfilling, because I used the referee as a blocker. The inside defender couldn't push the ref out of the way fast enough, so I pushed the outside defender into the dirt while the ref covered the side with the ball. Thanks ref. You fucking racist prick.
After that, we managed to get the ball out of the scrum and actually had some possession. I doubt we had 20% of the ball in the first half, and that was telling. The forwards ground the opposition down, taking them from dominance to parity in a hard-fought display. The props deserve mad props for their work, so I present them this:
|Mad props to the props.|
Our inside centre scored a fantastic solo try, beating everyone and their grandmother from the halfway line. He broke through on a number of occasions, and was the catalyst for a huge number of gained metres. He scored again in the second, but I admit to being on the floor and completely unaware of the circumstances surrounding that try.
When we started to get ball in the second half, the backline began using me as an inside running battering ram. This is something I'm not particularly used to, being only 90kg's (nearly) in the English game means not being a blunt instrument. I made a few metres, got a few hand-offs and broke a couple of times, but mostly was ineffective. Interestingly I became less effective as the game wore on, originally I assumed they 'd simply telegraphed me. Now I think back, I definitely seem to remember more defenders in the inside channels I like to hit, but I also think my fitness degraded quite sharply towards the end. I became, at best, ineffective. At worst, I gave away two penalties for holding onto the ball while on the floor, because the tacklers most certainly bested me in those situations. I will admit to one being a penalty, but the other was given as a penalty for holding onto the ball before I was even on the floor.
There were two key areas where I felt I made a positive impact, and that was from the long kick into our territory, and in defence. Again, however, my positional play was not good enough. Their fly-half had a few very good kicks for touch, (which on the surface we used (3g turf, a synthetic grass) had an eminently predictable bounce) that I could have stopped. I will grant him one particular kick which was fantastic, but the others I should have caught on the full. In my defence (which is a limp-wristed, rather pathetic excuse) several players on our team had caught balls, knocked them backwards (we're talking two feet backwards before it bounces) only to be given as a knock-on; with the reverse being true for the opposition; I was essentially terrified of not catching the ball because when the stakes are raised to 'catch or free-kick against,' suddenly every muscle becomes that much more tense. Like I said, it's a feeble excuse.
I took the ball up from the back a number of times. I was destroyed in one particular tackle (I think it might have been a turnover) because I was caught in two minds. In another instance I broke outside the cover defence, skipped back inside and passed it to one of our team. This general pattern continued, despite a couple of eye-watering clashes that left me on the sore side of the encounter. Generally I made good ground, beating a fair number of players. My total carries would be fairly high, with ground gained also being respectable.
I missed one tackle in the game, right at the end. This actually let them score, as the guy bounced off me (not the other way round!) and span into another set of tacklers to my left, whom he broke through. Elsewhere, I defended extremely tight. Normally I try to stay as fluid as possible, making up gaps where needed. This requires exceptional amounts of trust on behalf of the other players; if I don't turn up where needed everyone involved looks right stupid. They only spread it on a few occasions however, and I wanted to help the forwards because they were under the kosh the whole match. This manifested in me dismantling their fly-half, not five minutes after he'd been pulverised by one of our fijian back-rows. I shot out of the line as fast as I could, and in the five metres or so was damn near top speed. He was in the act of passing which meant he was relatively low down and completely unprepared for the hit. All my frustration (up to that point) was focused onto my right shoulder and I hit him with glee. Delight. He went backwards like a limbless sack, but I couldn't hold onto him (I had wrapped my arms as per regulations) so I ended up sliding my shoulder along his ribs, up into his face just as his head hit the floor. It was glorious. It was a completely legal tackle, there was nothing even remotely out of place. He got up protesting that it was late (vocally, I might add) but as he reached his feet he suddenly became quiet and went down onto one knee again. The big Fijian (I think it was big Joe, and he is big) set it up, and I knocked him down. Or vice versa. Either way, he isn't going to work today.
The other tackle of note came near the end of the match. One of our players had kicked it through right into the corner of their 22. I was at 75% throttle chasing it down, expecting him to take it with ease, but when he let it bobble I hit the straps, hunting him down on full-turbo. As he picked it up and turned he was faced with a decision: be demolished with the ball, or without. So he stepped to one side, hoofed it away and got smashed. It must be said that our team manager (I think he's officially the manager) was on the sideline along with all our supporters and both of these tackles elicited an amazing response. Being aussies and kiwis they love a good tackle, and the buzz you get from pasting someone, and having it be acknowledged by your team and supports is bested by nothing. Big hits are better than scoring. There, I said it.
But to their credit, after a bit of fixing up the fly-half was on his way; and the full-back carried on for the remainder of the game. I would like to say that neither were as prominent from then on, but the truth is that what felt like amazing tackles had no effect whatsoever. Must try harder next time. I wasn't able to strip any ball from the tackle area simply because the one time I managed it, I was penalised for something.
So far this post has been a complete hodge-podge, not so much a match report as a stream of consciousness. Therefore, let me continue from the second half once more.
The score is 4-2 or 5-3 in tries, (the point being we were 2 behind). We were under serious pressure for the first ten minutes, despite having one against the run of play. We managed to get in behind the defence with greater frequency, and our carriers were grinding hard yards. After a few more minutes, it could be argued that we were in the ascendancy, and we capitalised. A few breaks here and there gave rise to a try out wide (I don't remember the specifics because I was either too far from the action, or had my face ground into the ground).
|At least I tried to protect myself by putting my hands down|
This put us only one try behind them, but still a referee down. With about twenty to go (again, none of this is concrete, only what I remember) one of our forwards rumbled through a gap, off-loaded and the great machine was moving once again. A couple of breakdowns later, with a cameo from the inside centre who tip-toed through the defence all game, someone went over. I distinctly remember not remembering who went through because I was convinced they'd turned it over, and I had retreated to the halfway line. I was involved somewhere along the line, either in a buildup crash ball or in the tackle area, but I can't remember the specifics. Needless to say, I didn't feel particularly involved in these parts of the game.
That drew us level on tries, still trailing a referee. With around ten or fifteen to go, the same thing happened. We rolled through them for another try to put us in front. At this point we were all riding high, and unfortunately I don't remember how it happened, but we scored a further try to bring us to thirty something total points. With five minutes to go, the referee decided he'd had enough and put us onto our own line. We defended and defended, holding a two try advantage. I will put my hands up and say, categorically, that it was my missed tackle that handed them a try in this period. He bounced off me because I was too weak (by this point I'd joined the forwards because we were all knackered and they weren't using the backs). I was trying to help them in the closing minutes, to ensure nothing got through. I was leaving the backs to help the forwards, and I messed up. I think my decision to provide an extra man was correct, my execution was poor.
They very quickly took the conversion, and with one try the difference between the two teams, the ref blew his whistle. It turns out that this is the first time we've beaten them in sixteen years, which is nice.
Now I've written all this down, I find myself more inclined to sympathy for our opposition. Everyone in Japanese rugby are buddies, and our team might well have representatives, but we'll always be the foreigners. The white men who steal all the jobs and women etcetera. Cronyism is the byword for Japanese politics at all levels, so the referee may well have been acting on his own to secure the glorious rise of the Japanese empire. It's still bullshit.
Speaking selfishly (as I have been all post, of course) the aftermath was incredible. I went into the game with a cold that had been kept at bay through voodoo and willpower. When the game stopped, I was man-hugged by the fijian forward of tackling fame, congratulated, then had to lie down. My legs absolutely stopped working. They didn't turn to jelly, they turned to wood. They were solid. My shoulder hurt like hell (I landed extremely heavily on it, and I think it either stretched something it shouldn't have, or moved it out of the joint) and does right now. My knee hurt. I'd broken my finger and not even noticed. My third finger on my right hand now points outwards, previously pointing inwards. I had a headache the size of planets. Everything stopped working. I started coughing. I honestly don't know what happened. I hadn't used painkillers, there was no artificial masking agent. I just stopped working. Today, the day after the day before, I found out that I have a dead leg, on the leg which no longer bends at the knee. I surmise that my incompetence stems from multiple simultaneous injuries rather than brain damage - the human brain can only allot so much processing power to injury, the most painful taking precedent.
There's an american novel, in which an isolated family send a son and their horse to the nearest town to get a religious man for some kind of death rites. The son rides the horse through deep snow, and upon returning the horse is never the same again. They end up taking it to the knackers because it's just a spent shell. I woke up this morning, and everything hurt even more than yesterday. By rights I should probably have a heart-attack tomorrow. I couldn't bend my knee, and I don't even know which tackle caused that to happen. I was fine in the match, and then I just fell apart. I had a small sob in the shower because I've seen into the future; I know what it's like to be ninety-nine. I perked up again after the hot shower eased everything off, but I was a wreck. I still am.
Please don't play rugby with a cold or the flu, especially if you're going to be giving everything you've got. It's fine when you're playing, but stopping is torture. It is, absolutely, the worst comedown from a game I've ever had. I often hurt after games, I usually lack all energy and enter a zombie trance, but that was just awful. I'm just glad they don't have a knackers for people.
The post match awards were handed out. My personal man of the match was one of our props, who, as mentioned earlier, was placed upon an anvil by the ref, and hammered into dust by the opposition. There aren't many sports, activities or games where you can be bullied by the referee and your opposition player for sixty minutes, then redeem yourself in the last quarter. There aren't many people who have the strength to do that, so he was certainly my man of the match.
The inside centre was awarded man of the match, along with me, for breaking the game up and letting running rugby rule the day. I've already highlighted my shortcomings, but I've also shown that I don't really remember the specifics of the match, so I may well have done more work than I accredit myself. The inside centre deserves plaudits because they didn't break our back line, and he instigated tons of great play.
This is the most I've written ever, so I feel now is a good time to stop.
We won, we beat mandara (a top team) despite the referee, and I have a week to recover before a friendly next week. I might well have to miss it in order to recuperate, because right now, sitting in my school, holding my limbs together with willpower alone, I feel like shit.
But we won.