Monday, 15 October 2007

Back in the saddle...

Thoughts on the Rugby World Cup semi-finals later, but first let's turn our attention to the most significant rugby event of the weekend - my return to the rugby field.

Yes folks, despite all the angst, despite all the doubt, despite all the fear, I made my long-awaited comeback to "competitive" (a very loose description) rugby at the weekend. To say that I hurt as I type this (and, to be brutally honest, it's even difficult to find a spare finger that isn't aching) is a huge understatement, although compared to how I felt when I eventually dragged myself to bed on Saturday night, I feel better than I have a right to.

Things looked ominous when I arrived on Saturday as instructed (and absolutely bricking myself, if the truth be known) an hour before kick off to find three of our team mooching around outside the clubhouse as all nineteen (what the *@~#?) of our opposition from High Wycombe made their way into the changing rooms. Minutes later the opposition all emerged and headed out to the pitch for their warm up as our number swelled to six. Half an hour or so later, about ten of us were changed and sauntering out towards the pitch as our opposition were running through yet another lineout variation and unopposed backs' move. More importantly, their pack looked absolutely enormous and reminded me very much of my under-15 days when the size and bulk of the opposition dominated all pre-match conversations. Eventually, with kick off imminent (if not overdue), we managed to front up with fifteen and, as we kicked off, it was obvious that we were in for a hammering.

For some reason, however, the anticipated stuffing didn't happen. Our scrum, after the first couple, went into retreat (which meant, as the default number 8, I spent pretty much all afternoon picking up and being clobbered at the base of the scrum) and the opposition also cleaned up at the lineout, but we tackled hard, rucked like our lives depended on it (as, at our age, they indeed might have done) and, somehow, stayed in the game. With half time approaching (or so I thought) and with us being 0-7 down, I turned to the 12 year old referee (OK, I may be exaggerating, he may have been 14) and asked how long there was to go before half time. "Twenty-two minutes," was his reply. Not collapsing in sheer panic was my major achievement of the afternoon.

Two well worked tries in the second half saw us manage to hold High Wycombe to a 14-28 defeat which, in the circumstances, was a monumental effort from our boys. Not only were the opposition big, they were also very organised, had plenty of reinforcements to bring on in the second half and, more importantly, a number of them were suspiciously young. Yes, they had their fair share of 40+ guys in their team but there were also quite a few very close the the 35 year age limit and 3 or 4 who looked like they'd struggle to pass for 30. Our mob, on the other hand were almost exclusively over 40 (and at times it showed!). Some say that Vets' rugby is state of mind. Is isn't. It's a state of body...and being younger and fitter just isn't playing the game.

From a personal point of view the game went reasonably well, the major plus being that I didn't suffer an injury and was able to play the whole game. The bonus for me was that I was able to get stuck in and contribute, in particular in clearing up a huge amount of messy ball at the back of a retreating scrum and in making a nuisance of myself at the breakdown. The major downside was that I discovered that my fitness wasn't all that I'd believed it to be, and it was the physicality at the breakdown that really sapped my energy and and meant that my contribution in the wider channels was pretty much negligible as I rarely got there.

Still, as my first game for the best part of 14 years, I really shouldn't quibble. The guys in the team were very supportive and complimentary afterwards and chatting over a couple of beers in the clubhouse made me realise exactly what I'd missed during the last fourteen years.

The fact that I was later able to kick back on Saturday evening (albeit in some considerable pain and in more or less a horizontal position) and watch England achieve another minor miracle made the whole day pretty memorable.

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