I suspected that Saturday's match against Ruislip Vets would be a tough one and I wasn't wrong. Whilst there's an argument that to expect to face a bit of a battering can turn out to be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, I really don't think that this was the case here as the bottom line was that they had half a dozen or so seriously decent players in their line up and played some seriously good rugby.
The final score was 33-5 (to them of course) but that doesn't really tell the whole story. That the opposition knew what they were doing was evident very early on as they took every opportunity to move the ball away from contact and ran hard at our midfield, one of whom was a backrower playing out of position and neither of whom had played together before. The tactic yielded an early try and it was obvious that we'd have to work very, very hard to keep them out.
Whereas they looked extremely well drilled from the off, we looked exactly what we were - pretty much a scratch side. We showed nine changes from the starting line up in our last game and it took us pretty much the whole of the first half to come to terms with what we were trying to do ourselves, let alone what the opposition were trying to do. By that stage, sadly, we were 3 tries down and trailed 19-0 at the half.
I certainly felt some responsibility for the second try in that I missed their inside centre with a despairing dive after he'd broken through the middle. Had I been fully switched on to what they were doing I'd have anticipated the break and, I'd like to think, would have made the tackle but, like the rest of the team, I wasn't really at the races during that first half.
One area that was going well for us, though, was the scrummage where we were much stronger than in our last outing and were able to shunt the opposition pack backwards both on their ball and on ours. Sadly our advantage here was swiftly negated early in the second half as an injury to one of our props meant that we had to switch to uncontested scrummages - another first for yours truly.
Nevertheless, we started the second half quite brightly and began to control territory and possession pretty well, eventually culminating in a try. I've no idea who scored it, mind you, as I was still at the bottom of a pile of bodies, desperately trying to breathe. Being trapped at the bottom of a pile up with the air being squeezed out of my lungs has never been a favourite location of mine, but believe me it's even worse when it's Vets rugby as, in general, players tend to (how can I put this politely?) be a few pounds heavier than in their prime.
To make matters worse, when I was eventually peeled from the floor I was informed by the referee that I had blood all over my face and needed to go off to get cleaned up. It turned out just to be a knick on my forehead which fortunately stopped bleeding pretty quickly and allowed me to be back on the field by the time the opposition kicked off again (which in many ways was a shame as I fancied a bit of a rest at that point).
The remainder of the game was spent largely chasing after Ruislip players who had obviously decided to spin every piece of possession they had and keep the ball alive at all costs. Not only was this exhausting for us it was also very bad form by the opposition to rely on superior fitness and skill to try to beat us - that's just not playing the game by my book.
We did have another opportunity to score later in the half, only for Colin (who runs the team) to spill the ball in the tackle as he prematurely attempted to celebrate the try, before having to leave the field with a combination of a knee injury and a severe case of mortal embarrassment.
Two further late tries were conceded as the opposition's dastardly fitness kicked in, before the referee (who had suffered from myopia for much of the game) blew the final whistle signal the end of the torture. A hot shower and a couple of beers later it was back home to nurse my many aches, strains and bruises, all of which have returned with a vengeance today as the anesthetic effect of last night's alcohol has worn off.
Naively, I had thought that this rugby lark would get easier but I've come to realise that, at my age, the pain really is part of the territory. It's three weeks before our next match - against local rivals Amersham & Chiltern - and no doubt by then the pain will be a distant memory and I'll have convinced myself that I'm fitter and that this time it will be different...