Two thoughts ran through my head:
- oh good, Fullerians being based in Watford means a much easier journey for me; and
- oh bugger, Fullerians are quite good aren't they?
Unfortunately, the first thought turned out to be utterly misplaced as roadworks meant that traffic on the way into Watford was horrendous. I arrived 20 minutes later than planned but my team mates were even later, most of them arriving just before kick off.
Equally unfortunately, the second thought turned out to be quite accurate. While our team was trying to get used to not being stuck in traffic and work out who was meant to be doing what, the well warmed-up opposition began the serious business of playing rugby and scoring tries, aided and abetted by a stiff breeze and what I can only describe as a "boy" playing in the centre who ran in four of their five first half tries. Not only was he young (I'd be amazed if he was over 25, let alone over 35), he was also very quick and very strong and direct. Not only that, but at least 2 of his tries came from passes that were palpably forward - a fact sadly lost on the young, inexperienced and obviously Australian referee (who was clearly applying his very own Experimental Law Variation).
OK, excuses over, we went into half time with a 0-29 deficit and decided it was about time we played a bit of rugby. The scrummage had gone reasonably well in the first half (the lineout being its usual shambles), so it was determined that we'd use it more as an attacking platform and try to keep the ball in hand a bit more.
Lo and behold, the change of emphasis (and attitude, it must be said) seemed to work and we started to see a bit more ball, make a few breaks and inch our way back into the game. Moreover the opposition had removed their young starlet from the fray (as he probably needed to get home for his tea) so things were indeed looking up from our point of view.
And then it happened. From inside our half our backs made a break and the back row (Clive and Steve, the flankers, both had great games incidentally) carried the ball to the edge of the opposition 22. The ball was then moved back to the middle where the pack rucked and won possession in front of the posts before Geoff, our fly half, switched play back to the right with a long arcing run and a short pass to yours truly who was loitering with intent on the wing, where all decent glory-hunting number 8s should be.
My first try since 1993 was followed minutes later by a great scrummage on half way, my pick up and pop pass to Pete, playing scrum half, freeing him up to set up Geoff for a canter to the line unopposed. Another conversion and it was 14-29 and game on.
Sadly, however, that's as good as it got. Our limited success clearly going to our heads, we suddenly believed that we were the Barbarians and started trying to play from anywhere when a solid hoof down the field with the wind behind us might have been more appropriate. A couple of errors led to a couple soft tries and, as the half wore on, the opposition's superior fitness and organisation was able to reassert itself as they cruised to a 53-14 victory.
The scoreline looks a little harsh - I'm not sure that we were that much worse than them - but probably reflects Fullerians' dominance in the first and last quarters of the game. Nevertheless, a good game of rugby made all the more enjoyable by the fact that, in the second half at least, we gave it a good go and made a game of it.
An added bonus is that, apart from the usual aches and pains (which I'm beginning to be able to accept as just part of the process) I'm still in one piece - although it must be said that my level of fitness isn't all that it might be. Four weeks to try to sort that out before our next game - although how exactly I address my chronic lack of acceleration (other than somehow reversing the ageing process) remains a bit of a mystery.