Another outing for Chesham Vets yesterday and, well over 24 hours later, I'm still experiencing plenty of pain and suffering. My last game was back in January and I don't recall it hurting this much afterwards - or perhaps my memory is just blocking it out.
Or a simpler explanation may be that my fitness has tailed off to such an alarming extent that, despite my attempts to con my body into thinking it was fit by attending a circuit training session on Tuesday, it was always going to be an uphill struggle - and so it proved.
The mission, if I'd chosen to accept it, was an away fixture against Fullerians Vets who had, on my previous encounters, administered a severe beating on both occasions, so the portents were not good. Neverthless, as the match approached it looked dangerously like we might be able to turn out a full team and, as things turned out, we actually managed to turn up with 16 players (well, actually 15 players with one still on the way). A slight complication was that we only had one prop - so a hasty conference was organised with the referee and the opposition skipper the result of which was a decision to play the match with uncontested scrums throughout.
And so the game kicked off and I fully expected the usual notoriously slow Chesham start. For some reason, however, the boys seemed really up for it right from the whistle and we'd soon won a series of rucks and made good progress towards the Fullerians line. After a few minutes we were awarded a penalty on the opposition 22 and, instead of going for goal, stand-in skipper and scrum half Pete took a quick tap and passed to our hooker Mike who, with the cover coming across shipped the ball on to yours truly who had adopted the usual position, lurking on the touchline. As the defence came across I stepped in off my left foot (I only ever step one way) into the gap and dived over for a try - my second since my return to the rugby pitch some 18 months ago.
So, not only had we started brightly and not only had I scored, it was also the first time this season that we had actually taken a lead in a game. Having achieved such heights, however, there was only one way the game could go now - and so it transpired. Almost immediately Pete, who was feeling unwell, was replaced by the late-arriving Steve who proved to be the ultimate impact replacement. Sadly, however, he didn't quite have the desired impact as Fullerians came storming back into the game, running the ball from everywhere and utilising their quick and strong back division. I've no idea what their scrum would have been like, but uncontested scrums certainly suited their game, giving them a steady platform from which to launch their backs. Of course it didn't help that our kicking game was straight from the England Rugby playbook as we insisted on kicking the ball straight to their fullback who was probably the quickest and most skillful player on the pitch.
Anyway, the upshot was that Fullerians quickly got themselves back into the match, scoring a couple of tries to lead 14-7 at the break and, despite our intention to keep hold of the ball and deny them possession, they came out firing again in the second half and quickly added another couple of scores for a comfortable lead.
Physically the game was pretty demanding, much of the time being spent chasing and tackling and it was clear that Fullerians were much the fitter side as we tired. If I wasn't chasing quick backs I was having to stop charges from their former Aussie international backrower Bill Calcraft - and although I'd like to think that honours were even in that particular contest I very much doubt he's in as much pain as I am today.
Strangely, however, with the threat of a rather enormous and humiliating defeat a real prospect, Chesham rallied midway through the second half and started to make a game of it again. We blew a couple of try scoring opportunities before Pete, back on at fly half, chipped over the defence and regathered to launch an attack. A couple of passes later I found myself with the ball, bearing down on their fullback who was lining me up. I could have passed but for some bizarre reason chose to chip the ball over his head for our flanker Clive to gather and sprint over to score. It might have gone horribly wrong but thankfully it didn't and, for a moment, we were more or less back in the game. Sadly, however, that was the last hurrah for Chesham as 2 late tries saw Fullerians home comfortably by 38-12.
Another game, another defeat, but the effort was fantastic yesterday and there was certainly no shame in losing to an excellent Fullerians outfit. There were several plus points, including the fact that we took the lead for the first time this season, we scored 2 tries for the first time this season and there were glimpses that, in patches, we can play a bit.
I just wish it wasn't so damned painful...