The first in a regular rambling series of life’s ups and downs according to the Sporting Gods. A sporting life it certainly has been. Why Sport? It’s function in life is? Maybe it harks back to our warring days with our primitive urge to show mastery over others, to beat the chest, let out the war cry and scream out the Victory after every ounce of body and soul has been expended in this almost blood quest? Sport goes back a long way. Whether it be in a team or as an individual we have always been competing for something. Sometimes just pride in knowing that you put it all out there, did your best and still came up short, inspiring you to go around again to chase that elusive winning holy grail. Sometimes, it is just the fun and camraderie in hanging about with a bunch of like minded crazies that want to have a red hot go. In the words of the World famous Roy and HG Nelson- “When too much Sport just isn’t enough”!
Whatever it is, I am still chasing the desire even though the body is not so willing after 50 plus years of doing it. The following recounts some of the good, bad and ugly of sport, while trying to not put on the Rose coloured glasses too much!
Rugby……. Union to be exact. 15 humans per side. General aim is to get and keep the ball, stop the opposition getting the ball back and run it over a line about 100m metres away at the opposite end. If the opposition has the ball, aim is to get the ball back almost anyway you can (within the rules of course). This involves tackling, bumping and lots of running. Simple!
Time Played: 12 years up to Senior level for a short stint. Success: No Silverware. Bridesmaids in two Grand Finals.
Injuries: Severe concussion (am still missing three days of my life), bent/broken nose that got re-straightened the next game!, many boot stop gouges to upper thighs and lower back. Not being able to move properly for two days after every game due to overwhelming body soreness no matter how much I trained! Pretty standard really.
Fun Rating: 9 out of 10, mainly due to the awesome times had with team mates on and off the field. Comedy? The entire time.
MUD & GUTS
Had rained on and off for days. Near the end of Winter with Spring not in a hurry to show its smiley face anytime soon. Sky is deathly grey. Will this grey soup ever lift? Rugby Park, Newtown Hobart Tasmania – quite appropriately (for our team) just across the road from the Cemetery. The ground had been home to a schoolboys comp all week with the first round of Seniors finals the day before. Blades of grass still existing, were frozen flattened and brown. Pretty ugly! Mud, mud and more mud that crunched in a pleasant way as its partly frozen form was scrunched under my Rugby boot at 8.30am. Kickoff at 9.00am with the temperature at 1.0 degree C and heading up to a forecast high of 7 degrees C. Summer it isn’t! Under 21’s semi-final against a team that all had facial hair by the age of 12, had begun to speak at age 16 and grown to fully mature manlike size by 18. Even their theme song sung with gusto when they smashed us earlier in the season went – Ugg, Ugg, Ugg , Ugg – not an intelligible word among them. Damn they were so big. Even the Hooker was the size of the front line of our Forward pack.
Memory casts back to that early season game. Beautiful Sun as if Autumn just wanted to last forever. Dry and lush grass ground and they just monstered us into oblivion. They were not quick, but didn’t need to be. They just rolling mauled the ball wherever and whenever they wanted. I recall their winger was never on the receiving end of some fleet footed passes to run with the ball. It was as if the entire team was a forward pack! Maybe our heaviest player was scratching 85kg and their lightest player about the same. Up until that time on a rugby field I had never been frightened. The thought of being caught with the ball underneath a ruck certainly created a few nervous ticks as outside centre. It never eventuated as the ball never got that far for me to receive and run, get tackled and be minced. Scoreline from memory was 63 -3. Our points from a sympathetic umpire penalty about 30 seconds from the end.
Semi- Finals day beckoned and we all decided, considering who the Opposition were that we would go and have farewell drinks the night before, write some draft obituary’s for each other, look to funeral bookings and generally have a great last night out. It was a combined team hangover the next morning awaiting our time to meet our makers. Some say do not Party the night before an important game, some say sex is definitely out the night before a game. After this game, I believed neither.
Kickoff with us receiving. The monsters of the Opposition seemed to take forever to follow up the kick. It was as if the harder they ran or pushed, the further they sank into the mud. The ball still dryish, passed out to us in the backline through to me and the opposition were still 10 metres away with us on a massive overlap. Ball out to our nippy Hooker who was the smallest in the Comp, just as he was finally caught up with, a deft flick to our winger and we were over! Less than a minute into the game!
The frozen mud was no more, turned to slush under our boots. The fog lifted to reveal the first blue skies in days. A knock forward by us and the first scrum down which had been most dreaded by us and most anticipated by them. This was their game now – lock it into the scrum as long as possible, short ball out and then back in and their rolling maul would conquer all. Their feed, but they couldn’t get it right. Their front row kept on collapsing every time they locked down. Penalty to us. Quick feed out, up and under kick – which I gleefully followed up, marked, ran through a massive gap and try under the posts. Conversion and we were in double digits before 5 minutes gone.
It is as if all inhibitions regarding our personal safety against these monsters disappeared. The field of mud was our lightweight team savior. Opposition just could not get traction, almost every scrum as long as we initially held, they would collapse. Our Captain basically said we will play the opposite. Get the ball out to the backline, run close, pass close and just go around them. The Opposition really could not get a grip in the mud. We did! By halftime, we were 25 – zip. It was not quite as simple as that, with one our second rowers off with what appeared to be a snapped ankle after being caught in a scrum collapse.
The sun shone, the mud was churned up like a WW1 battlefield, but it did not matter. We kept the short passes going with our running game even though the legs were heavy from the mud. I recall, one below knee tackle on their opposition forward – he was about 90 kgs and me 70 kgs. I had him lined up from about 10metres away with him in mud super slo-mo. I hit him and he went down so beautifully and so easily. The mud prevented him being able to keep his body stable and we just slid to a nice comfy halt. Ball spilled and my teammate picked it up and yet another try. What a great and glorious affair. We were having fun! 15 minutes left in the game and the Opposition chances of pulling off a miracle were dashed. They were having unkind words with each other, especially their forward pack. Someone mentioned something about sex with the Captains mother, the frustration fuse lit and about half their team ended up trying to punch each others lights out. While they were engrossed, we ran in another try. The referee meanwhile waded into the melee, blowing whistle vigorously to no avail. The linesmen rushed over waving flags and shouting but to no avail. Some of their supporters club ran onto the ground into the melee and joined in. Maybe 10 players, 10 spectators and the ref. Was hard to tell who was who as mud and fists were flying everywhere. We are all standing there some 20 metres away watching this debacle. The referee comes flying out back first and down in the mud. He had been punched or knocked over. He gets up blows the whistle and signals that game is over. The Opposition implosion and subsequent Referee attack led to us being awarded the game earlier than we would have anyway. What a day! What a victory against the brainless monsters from hell!
By this time, players and spectators for senior finals had started turning up. Our seconds team promptly donated their slab of beer, with much back slapping and merriment. Our wounded second rower (ankle properly diagnosed as sprained) led the charge of the Club song sung with as much gusto as we could muster. Meanwhile after a brief respite (yes they did line up to shake our hands), the Opposition rolling maul of fists and fury started up again on the sidelines and Police arrived. We did not care as we had conquered our highest mountain of fear of really being crushed to death to be in the Grand Final the following week.
No rest after, the beer kept flowing well into the night with much mirth and camaraderie. All season we had steadily improved our Rugby to this point of a shot at the Grand Final. We were a motley crew of surfers, ex Aussie Rules players and about three of us that had grown up with rugby in the veins. Individual champions we were not. But, we were a team that supported, encouraged and nurtured all no matter the skill level. What was the return? Commitment from all to play for each other, to protect each other and to have Fun! We had become an almost champion team , rather than the selfish team of Neanderthal thuggish champions we had fairly and squarely beaten.
In hindsight, maybe the semi final was our grand final, as the following week we were beaten soundly in what essentially was a one sided grand final. Of note when lining up for pre-game formalities the opposition team made it clear how much they admired our victory the week before. Scoreboard was eventually 15-6 which did not reflect the true one sided nature of the game. At least we were beaten by the team that had been favourites all season, who had gone through the home and away rounds undefeated. They just played at the highest level, had an unbreakable defense and truly showed us that even though we had come a long way, there was still much work to do to become a truly champion team. At least they played proper rugby – hard, clean and without compromise. No honour lost, no funerals and no guts left in the mud from the bunch of thugs!
Give me brains over brawn any day. Give me love, trust and mutual respect of team mates any day no matter their or my ability, and the rewards will come.
Soon…. No-talent winners.