Wednesday, 9 May 2007

In the beginning...

In 1979 my family moved house from the North-East down to the East Midlands and, aged 14, I had to change schools. By chance my new form teacher ran the fourth form rugby team and, being a lanky six-footer, I was immediately asked whether I played the game. "No," I replied (which was the truth, as I'd spent pretty much all of my childhood up to that point playing football and dreaming of inheriting the Newcastle United number 9 shirt). "Well, you do now," I was told and a couple of weeks later found myself turning out on a warm Saturday morning for the rugby team in the second row.

Bear in mind I had never played a game of rugby before and, as far as I can recall, the team hadn't had a single training session. So what came next really shouldn't have come as a surprise.

At the first lineout the forwards gathered in a fairly haphazard fashion, the order of lineout seemingly determined by who arrived first. Our hooker, a skinny kid with frizzy hair who looked like he should play anywhere except the front row, held the ball on the touchline and then, underarm, lobbed the ball high into the air in the general direction of the two sets of forwards.

A combination of (a) my height, (b) pure chance and (c) the fact that the opposition must have been completely flummoxed by this unusual and innovative lineout move, meant that I caught the ball and, as I'd seen on the telly, turned with my back to the opposition expecting my fellow forwards to bind on to me and secure possession. What happened, in fact, was that there was a split second in which I noticed that my fellow forwards were looking at me, clearly wondering why I hadn't just flung the ball in the direction of our scrum half, before I was engulfed by the opposition pack who had belatedly woken up to the fact that we hadn't a clue what we were doing.

That set the scene for the rest of the game in which tackles were regularly missed or avoided, passes rarely went to hand and scrums marched backwards at a rate of knots. It was hot, the ground was bone hard and I spent the vast majority of the game trapped at the bottom of rucks (or "pile-ups", to describe them more accurately).

I finished the game knackered, bruised and grazed. We'd lost 56-0. And I'd never had so much fun in my life...

1 comment:

Geoffrey said...

I had a similar introduction to game Flanker. I was born in London but educated from the age of eight at schools in Gloucester. At the age of twelve I went to the same school as Mike Burton and there I also learned the rudiments of the game.

After leaving school I was not allowed to play rugby, as I was apprenticed to my father's firm and we already had rugby playing staff off injured on a regular basis.

It was some years later when I was able to take up club rugby - some of the best and worst moments of my life, would I do it all again? You bet I would.