Duane Heath

A farewell to oval balls

2004-12-10 08:20

And so comes the time for goodbyes.

Like the Springboks who faced one final challenge against Argentina last week, so I also find myself one assignment - this column - away from my own rugby off-season.

When next I switch on my laptop, open a Word document and write something that includes the word 'conditioning', it will be March and I'll be in Hong Kong, realising a life-long dream of getting caught up in that city's world-famous sevens tournament - which next year doubles as the Rugby World Cup Sevens.

The Springboks will arrive there, hopefully with the Russells and Habanas of this world in tow, and challenge strongly for the title after what could be a hard-slog type of season for our seven-a-side sluggers.

Looking back over the 2004 season, I realise I chose one hell of a year to ride into town and start covering major internationals. But then it's also been one hell of a ride - with Brian van Rooyen driving the rugby bus, and Jake White the chirpy conductor, how could it have been any different?

I won't dwell too much on the highs and lows, except to say there was a bagful of both. The author JP Donleavy once said writing was turning one's worst moments into money. Thanks to Jake White and the Springboks, I've been able to pay my rent writing mainly about good times - and that's a welcome change.

Rugby has always been a part of me; clinging to my genes in such a way that not even a Twickenham defeat can succeed in loosening its grip on my psyche - although such losses do still hurt.

Typing more than training

Whether all will change in 2005 we'll just have to wait and see. Whatever happens, I'll hopefully be there to write about it. It's something - at this stage of my life anyway - I can't do without.

Change, however, is inevitable. And with change comes endings, and with endings, goodbyes. I sit here today able to look back on ten years of club rugby that has taken me around the country and around the globe.

Lately, I've found myself typing more than training, and know now that it's almost time for an altogether more painful goodbye.

I have asked the rugby gods for one last season; one last year spent surrounded by sweaty men and the smell of Deep Heat; one final year of smelly socks and those Saturday-morning butterflies; of hearing metal studs on cold concrete; of tasting victory and defeat; of standing shoulder to shoulder in the company of comrades; and of drinking lots of beer.

And when that is done, and I have finally hung up my boots long enough for them to gather the dust of a life spent chasing dreams wrapped in an odd-shaped piece of plastic called 'Gilbert', I shall sit back and let the good times wash over me.

It's then that I'll remember it all: the places; the characters and the missed chances; the tries scored and the drinks downed; and the dust and mud and snow and rain that came and went with the passing years, on fields from Kokstad to Copenhagen.

When I finally pack it in, there will be no press conference, no glare from TV cameras X-raying my thoughts, no recorders hungry for headline-friendly soundbites.

This game called life

The day I leave, the day I walk over those four white lines for the last time and cross over into that realm of the ex-player, I will be giving up something which has been with me all my days; a sport that got me through high school in one piece, a thing I was actually good at, and which taught me a trick or two about this game called life.

I will look back and see a discipline which allowed me perform under sweating suns and season-ending snowfalls; before large crowds and in front of no one at all. And I will know it was all worth it.

When I leave this game, all I will have will be these memories, echoes of a modest life spent on green fields in the company of brothers. But those memories will be priceless, and maybe one day I'll write about them.

It's a funny way to end off a series of rugby columns, I know, but I leave you with a quote from a tennis book (of all things!) that sums up that end-of-whatever-it-is-you're-no-longer-going-to-do kind of feeling.

A South African, Gordon Forbes, is widely acknowledged to have written the finest tennis book ever, called A Handful of Summers.

Forbes, faced with the realisation that it's all finally coming to an end, writes: "Who can ever re-examine old memories without ever feeling a little woebegone and miserable? Who can look at old photographs without that odd feeling of sadness - regret, perhaps, for opportunities gone, chances lost, talents wasted.

"Who can ever be lucky enough to know when good times are at hand, how good they really are? Stop for a moment and say, "these moments are as good as they come, these now, not others."

See you in Hong Kong!

Send Duane your thoughts on this column.

  • Duane Heath is a freelance sportswriter who has written about the game for News24, Rugby World, IRB World of Rugby and the Sunday Times.

  • Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


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