Sydney University Football Club (SUFC) embarked on a ground-breaking tour to Tokyo, Japan in their 2018 pre-season. The touring squad included a healthy mix of colts and grade players, who would play three blockbuster matches against some of Japan’s finest teams. The 10-day tour was a great cultural experience for the players, and allowed them to get some extra pre-season game time under their belts, writes Harry Croker.

The Students landed in Tokyo a couple of days out from their first match against Meiji University. This match would be no walk in the park; Meiji had just come off the back of a successful season in the Japanese National Championships, where they lost in the decider against Teikyo University. However, this did not sway the confidence of the boys in the blue and gold hoops as they took the field in front of a crowd in its hundreds.

The rugby gods had blessed Meiji Uni’s Hachimanyama field with cool, dry playing conditions – perfect for running rugby. The transition of up-and-coming colt, Tom Osborne, from prop to second row paid dividends, as the visitors dominated all facets of the set piece. In the backline, smooth handling and good running lines allowed a flexible, broken style of play to unfold – which the Meiji backs simply couldn’t contain. Winger, Ed King, bagged himself a double, while hooker, Declan ‘Bison’ Moore picked up a hat-trick, and was named MVP of the match.

Defensively, Uni let in more tries than they would’ve liked, however, the players put this down to first game cobwebs, and would regroup and refocus before their next match against the Japanese U20s national side. The final score: a comfortable 56-38 victory. Unfortunately, fullback, Ethan Miller, suffered severe ligament damage to his ankle during the match, which ruled him out of the remaining games of the tour. The game was played in good spirits, which made for an entertaining post-match function. The Meiji hosts provided an abundance of rice and beef bowls, and taught the Aussies some local, social quirks, such as insisting on filling up someone else’s beer before your own, and bowing before walking onto the rugby pitch.

Game two: the Japanese U20s. The Students were lucky enough to play this fixture at the Canon Eagles’ home ground – a Japanese Top League franchise. The U20s side showed their professionalism early, beginning their intense warm-up over an hour and twenty minutes before kick-off. The national side looked well-drilled, but this would not deter the courageous Students. With a strong wind in his face, playmaker, Joe Schwager, found it difficult to use his radar-like boot for good field position. The unfavourable wind, combined with limited attacking opportunities, meant the Students went into the sheds at halftime behind on the scoreboard.

At the resumption of the match, the Students wasted no time catching up, using the wind to their advantage and letting the ball sing to the backs. To put it bluntly: Sydney Uni put on a clinic against the junior Cherry Blossoms. Combinations began to click, and the hosts simply couldn’t handle the mongrel that the Australians brought – led by enforcers, Hamish Dunbar and Will McDonnell. While Japan was technically superior at scrum time, it made no difference; Uni notched up their second victory on the trot. The final score didn’t serve justice to the dominant display by the Students, finishing 43-27. Another extremely hospitable post-match function followed, and Japan sent the boys off with luck for their final match against the Meiji Old Boys.

After their previous victories, the Students were confident going into their third and final match against Meiji Uni Old Boys, but not complacent. The Old Boys would be their toughest opponents yet as the club had produced many talented rugby players over the years – all of which were available for selection. To put things in perspective, the incumbent Japanese national flyhalf is a Meiji Old Boy, and so, pulled on the boots for the match. A large crowd gathered to spectate the hard and fast contest. The Students matched the Old Boys in the lineout department, however, weren’t up to Meiji’s scrummaging prowess. With fairly even possession statistics, Uni went into the sheds at halftime slightly behind: 14-12.

The Old Boys rolled out a fresh XV for the second half, which proved to be the nail in the coffin for the visitors. Despite bringing more mongrel, and bigger defensive contacts, 10 days of touring had taken its toll. A gutsy performance from the blue and gold couldn’t prevent the loss, with the final score ending up 54-12.

All in all, the tour was a success for the Students, and a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience for everyone involved.