Sunday, 28 September 2008

44

Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, etc...etc...etc...

Forty four years old today and, after a physical battering yesterday, I'm feeling every single last one of them.

As predicted yesterday afternoon was gloriously warm, ideal weather for standing on the sidelines with a beer - not so ideal, however, for 80 minutes' (give or take) slog on a rugby field. I can honestly say that I didn't stop sweating until late into the evening - showering made absolutely no difference.

As ever our team assembled in the traditional Chesham Vets way. I arrived at High Wycombe Rugby Club to find two other players there, already changed and, as I nervously began getting my kit on I received a call from our skipper for the day wondering where I was - he was waiting for me back at Chesham. The referee then arrived with a sheet of A4 paper summarising the laws he'd be applying which we (and he, as it later transpired) dutifully ignored.

Whereas the opposition were out warming up en masse, our boys eventually began to arrive in dribs and drabs, including a few who had turned up late at Chesham thinking we had a home game. The referee was getting visibly irritated as he counted 13 players and then 11 (as 2 had wandered off back to the clubhouse for a 'comfort break'). But, by not very long after the due kick off time, we'd managed to assemble 16 bodies and were ready (well, readyish) to go.

The game started and it soon became obvious that (a) it was bloody hot; (b) I had very little energy; and (c) we were in for a tough time at the scrum.

The latter point was illustrated when, at a scrum on our line after about 5 minutes, we hurtled backwards with such velocity that the ball squirted out of the back for their slightly unbelieving flanker to flop on it for their first try - 0-5. As blindside flanker rather than number 8 I hereby absolve myself of any responsibility for the score.

About the same time Rick, our second row, limped off (afterwards he was reminded that it was possibly the best 5 minutes he'd ever played, of course) so our replacement, Ben, made an early appearance.

However, rather than capitulate we responded with some determination and dominated territory and possession for the rest of the half, surprising the opposition, the ref and, mostly, ourselves. Very few clear cut try-scoring chances were created but we scrapped and competed at the breakdown and hung on grimly in the set piece. How I survived through to half time I'll never know as my lungs were burning and my legs simply not working but, by judicious selection in when and where I ran, I managed to somehow ease myself through.

Still 5 points down at half time we came out strongly in the second half, pressuring the oppo's half backs into mistakes and camping in their 22. It soon paid off. A quick tapped penalty (one of the few we were awarded) by scrum half Steve close to their line followed by quick ball from the ruck saw inside centre Phil crash over to the left of the posts for the equalising try. A fluffed conversion attempt, however, left the scores even at 5-5.

This seemed to wake the Wycombe lads up and, to be fair, they put us under pressure for the rest of the half, a half punctuated by lengthy (but nevertheless welcome) stoppages in play as various players from both sides went down injured or simply wilted in the heat. One such injury removed Harvey, another of our locks, from the fray and resulted in me moving across to number 8, where my first task was to secure ball from a rapidly retreating scrum close to our line. Eventually the pressure told, a series of strength-sapping scrums and pick and drives from a couple of their bigger forwards saw them crash over from short range to secure a 10-5 lead.

And that, it seemed, was that as we struggled to get out of our half until, late in the game, we ran a kick back from inside our 22. I was admiring the ambition of it all until I realised that play was heading my way and, as our fullback Tim burst across half way I, miraculously and running on empty, appeared on his shoulder to take the pass. More miraculously, with the opposing fullback lining me up, I threw a dummy. Even more miraculously, he bought it and I found myself in the clear with about 40 metres to go (NB - this distance will get longer the more I tell this story). The first 15 metres were covered with no difficulty and I looked over my shoulder to see their fullback giving chase and our fly half, Geoff, pointing and shouting "Posts!" The next 15 metres, however, were less impressively covered and, with 10 metres to go I was running in treacle.

With the smell of the white line in my nostrils I was hauled down an agonising 2 metres short and, my attempt to offload having failed, the ref compounded my agony by blowing the final whistle. So near and yet...

Of course, everyone was very kind afterwards - no one mentioned that my lack of speed and failure to pass had cost us the game. Not much they didn't and apparently there were several players all up in support and calling for the ball when I made the break - although funnily enough, when I looked round for support, I recall them all being rather conspicuous by their absence.

Ah, well - the story would be far less interesting if I'd actually scored and helped secure my first victory since returning to the game.

Glorious failure. That's what it's all about. Happy Birthday to me...

Friday, 26 September 2008

Wish me luck

Bugger.

Four weeks ago I was thinking, "No worries, I've got four weeks to do some training, get myself fit and be ready for the first Vets game of the season."

That was four weeks ago. And now it's little more than 15 hours before I'm due on a rugby pitch somewhere in Buckinghamshire to face the High Wycombe Vets' team. That's the same High Wycombe team that stuffed us twice last season. That's the same High Wycombe team against whom I made my long-awaited comeback appearance last October, after a summer of intense training to get myself in shape and against whom I still struggled horribly. That's the same High Wycombe team I now face on Saturday after six weeks of relative inactivity.

And, to make matters worse, the weather forecast is for a dry, warm and sunny afternoon. Ideal for running rugby. Bugger.

Bottom line is that I'm nowhere near ready. There are plenty of excuses. Both of the avid readers of this blog will no doubt recall that when, over 4 weeks ago, I last ventured out to a club training session, I damaged the knuckle on my left little finger. That sounds somewhat inconsequential, you may think, but believe me it was bloody painful at the time and I still can't grip with my left hand without considerable discomfort. I suspect a fracture.

Of course, a damaged hand does not prevent you from exercising entirely and, admittedly, I have done a little road running but deep down I know that it's nowhere near enough. The new job hasn't helped - although the hours haven't been particularly taxing as yet I've nevertheless sunk into the familiar evening routine of seeking the comfort of a cold beer and the telly rather than the harsh realities of the gym.

So, all in all, I'm nowhere near ready to play on Saturday. Adrenalin, plenty of judiciously placed strapping and a couple of ibruprofen tablets before kick off will have to see me through, I guess.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Telly addict


Not being a subscriber to Sky Sports, there's precious little opportunity to watch Guinness Premiership rugby on the telly.

As a supporter of the "I Want a Match of the Day for Rugby" campaign, I was therefore surprised and delighted when the news broke in the summer that ITV would be putting on an hour-long Premiership highlights show on Sunday evenings. Here's chance, I thought, for a quality rugby show with a knowledgeable studio presenter and expert analysis from some seriously respected rugby names - an opportunity for an in depth look at the teams and players involved and who might be in the international frame and a chance to learn from people on the front line about the impact or otherwise of the ELVs.

Sadly, ITV's budget clearly only stretching to £34.17 per show, what we're left with is an Irish former travel show presenter, some unnecessary opening title sequences and a disjointed bunch of highlights edited together by someone who I doubt has ever passed a rugby ball in anger in his sad little life.

I guess the idea is that we should all just be grateful that they're bothering to show rugby at all - but if this is the best that ITV can come up with then I doubt very much that very many rugby fans will continue to watch. And if the viewing figures are poor then there's little chance of the show continuing - talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy...

Saturday, 20 September 2008

...as a box of frogs

Proof positive that SuperJonny Wilkinson is as mad as mad Jack McMad, the maddest madman in Madsville...

According to The Times, Jonny has experienced an epiphany while reading about quantum physics, in particular the experiment known as "Schrödinger’s Cat".

The experiment, it is said, demonstrates a conundrum at the heart of quantum physics i.e. that a sub-atomic particle exists in two states but the act of measuring it effectively forces it into one state. It goes something like this - imagine a cat in a sealed box with a jar of cyanide and a piece of radioactive material. According to quantum physics there is a 50% chance that, at any given time, the material has decayed to trigger the release of the poison. At that time the cat is both alive and dead but as soon as the box is opened the cat is either alive or dead - because observing it has made it so.

“It had a huge effect on me,” says our ever-so-slightly eccentric number 10. “The idea that an observer can change the world just by looking at it, the idea that the mind and reality are somehow interconnected . . . it hit me like a steam train.

"Quantum physics helped me to realise that I was creating this destructive reality and that all I needed to do to change it was to change the way I chose to perceive the world.

"Failing at something is one thing, but Buddhism tells us that it is up to us how we interpret that failure.

"I couldn’t figure out how to avoid death: it was like a game I could not win. The closer I got to family and friends and the better things got, the more I had to lose.

"I have accepted my career will finish one day and I am in a place that will enable me to make that transition comfortably. I will not have to reinvent myself to cope with life after rugby."


Boy, if there was anyone who really needed to go out and get shitfaced...

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Social work

I note that there are still no British entries in the Social Rugby World Championship, destined to take place next June in Cape Town to coincide with the Lions Tour - a shame, as there must be plenty of social rugby teams out there just itching to get on tour.

The latest press release from the tournament's organisers tells me that ex Springbok captain Corné Krige has this week thrown his weight behind the tournament.

Known for his "bone-crunching tackling and straight talk"* Krige said, “Stunning idea. Wish I’d thought of it!

“I think the Social Rugby World Championship 2009 is a great way to honour social rugby players. The majority of rugby isn’t played at first team or provincial level. For these guys rugby isn’t a job, it’s a passion. Every weekend – for no payment or stadiums filled with 40 000 cheering fans – these blokes go out there and give it their all, just because they love the game, in all kinds of weather, on all kinds of fields. They love playing rugby, the camaraderie that comes with it and, I’ve been told, a good few beers after the game.”

* My abiding memory of Krige's so-called "bone-crunching tackling" is, I'm afraid, his performance at Twickenham in November 2002. From my position in the North Stand it was pretty obvious that he was out to maim anything in a white shirt by fair means or foul and the TV replays later showed that he also managed to lay out one of his own players with an uppercut that just missed Matt Dawson's chin. Not his greatest 80 minutes and I somehow doubt his endorsement will tempt too many British teams to the tournament.

However, anyone who would like to fiind out more about taking a team out to what sounds like a cracking tournament should contact Rolf - rolf@bigfishsportsproductions.co.za .

An Apology

Blimey - it seems an age since I last had a chance to post on the blog. My only excuse is that I recently started a new job and, although the hours are not (yet) that onerous, my attention has been focused elsewhere. That said, I hadn't quite realised that it was quite so long since I last posted. Sorry.

I suspect that as work commitments increase I shall be posting less frequently in general - so will probably have to concentrate on providing quality rather than quantity (in other words I'll be posting the usual drivel, only not quite as often).

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

The Total Flanker Guide to: Captaincy

Some time ago I was asked the question: what does a captain actually do?

My response was quite unsatisfactory, with words like 'trust' and 'presence' and 'respect' scattered throughout, as if there was some kind of mystical recipe that just made a great captain.

Utter nonsense of course but I must say, after plenty of time to think about it, I doubt I can come up with anything else to describe what is required to be a great captain at the elite level.

At grassroots level, however, it's a different story.

I mentioned in my previous response that at school I took captaincy to mean that I had to call heads or tails before the game, choose which end to play and shout quite a lot during the game. When all is said and done, that really is about the long and the short of it - although if you want to be a really successful captain there are a few character traits that will undoubtedly help, namely:

  • Ego-mania. There's no point being captain unless you are a control freak who revels in the power and just loves being in charge. Absolute certainty that every decision you make (on or off the field) is the correct one is a must, as is the requirement that you love the sound of your own voice - important because pretty much no one else will (if they can be bothered to listen). You may think that you are imparting words of wisdom before the match or rousing the troops with inspired rhetoric but, honestly, all they hear is "blah, blah, blah."
  • Workaholism. There's no getting around this - if you are in employment when you start the season as captain there's a very good chance that you won't be by the time the season's finished. If you have a great relationship with your family at the start of your tenure, expect bitterness and acrimony by the end of it. Pretty much all of your time will need to be devoted to your club. Well run rugby clubs have Chairmen, Secretaries, Social Secretaries, Coaches, Fixtures Secretaries etc etc etc. Others tend to rely on the captain to do pretty much everything and, without exception, no one is grateful for what you do. You have been warned.
  • An incredibly thick skin. When elected you may well be one of the most popular members of your club. This will last until after the first selection meeting when the whispering campaign will be started by a disgruntled few who failed to make the team. Before long this campaign will have spread like wildfire throughout the club and people will be openly questioning your competence, character and parentage, especially if results don't go your way. The best way to deal with this is to be totally oblivious to it - and your ego-mania will certainly help in this regard. The other thing you should remember is that it's highly unlikely that your club will seek to remove you from your position or even allow you to resign as this would then involve other club members getting off their arses and doing some work.
For all of the above reasons scrum halves often make very good captains.

That's it - hope it helps.