Dusting off the old rugby boots

2014-06-12 08:21

Rugby is in my blood, so it was only natural that the first time I ran onto a field to compete with a team, it was in a game of what they called mini-rugby. For the uninitiated, mini rugby is not a reference to a team playing rugby in mini-skirts (although one shudders at the fetish potential of that) but rather a group of six year old's pushing each other from one side of the field to the other in a large “bondeltjie”. Parents, faces red from shouting their child’s name, stalk the touchline as the “bondeltjie” moved up and down the makeshift pitch. Every so often, usually the biggest kid in the group, will emerge with the ball in hand and make a beeline for the try line, much to the delight of his father.

These formative days entrenched my love for the sport, both as a player and now as a coach. I never missed a year of rugby. I played in every division, from grade one to under-21. I then decided to hang up the boots and ventured into coaching. Well, until this past weekend.

The last time I played competitive rugby was eight years ago. So, when a few of the okes from the club, where I coach the first team, cornered me to run onto the pitch with the third team because they were short a player, things got a little tense.

Pulling that jersey over my shoulders brewed a mixture of emotions, from tingling finger tips to trembling bowels.

I warmed up with the boys, just the jog up and down the field before the stretch had me huffing and puffing.

As the ref blew his lungs empty into the silver whistle and the ball floated through the air to the opposing forwards, I charged hard. Primal screaming. The big eighth man caught the ball comfortably and headed straight in my direction. Fun times. I always considered myself an impressive defender but it had been years since I had put my body on the line.

As the colossal number eight raced toward me like a bull charges the red cloak of a matador, I forgot everything I had trained my players to do in a tackle situation. The collision happened with force. Like the gods of the gladiators watching over the warriors in the Coliseum so too my guardian angel was present. I emerged victorious and took him down.

The initial impact over, the fresh taste of the muddy soil about my tongue, I was energised, as if adrenalin had been injected straight into my heart.

My energy only lasted about five minutes before my subdued fitness emerged to say hi.

I put in a few more tackles and even had a few runs but – those gladiatorial gods again no doubt –  the game started too late and the ref informed us we were only doing thirty minutes a side.

At the end of that hour of play I was snorting and grunting like a sumo wrestler attempting the comrades.

After my pumping bloodstream had settled and a nice cold shower had washed away my scars, I took a seat and watched a bit of the second team game while trying to regain my breath.  Without knowing it, a smile had plastered itself across my face. There is something primeval about challenging yourself physically against fellow humans.  My body had been pulverised and I was still periodically gasping for air, but I had survived, and survived well.

The following days I walked around like I am sure Matfield does since his return. Stiff and sore. But all I can think about is I hope the third team are short a player again.

www.rudiwrites.com

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