YARS, Yet Another Rugby Story – inspired by the Soccer World Cup…
We were a new team ( The Forest City Rugby Club ) playing Sciotto Valley, one of the top rugby clubs in Ohio. It was a cold day, and Buddy our fiesty scrum half was so chilled he was wearing a bright orange stocking cap in the match. Sciotto had an eight-man, a massive stocky fellow, Kaiser I think the name was. We had no answer for him, he left us bruised and battered every time we tried to run past him. Once I helped Buddy up after a smashing tackle by Kaiser, and the portly scrum half muttered “I think I’m paralyzed” as he staggered back to postion. Another time Buddy confided, “I punched him last time and he didn’t even notice!”
But by the second half, Buddy had had enough. There was a ruck, a massive pileup of men struggling for the ball and Kaiser with his big number 8 on the back of his jersey lay exposed with his arms pinned down on our side. I saw Buddy run up and clench his fist, ready to strike a blow for retribution, when Buddy paused leaned over and bit Kaiser right on top of the number eight. Kaiser bellowed like a gelded bull, and thrashed around trying to peer around and spy the culprit.
In a panic, Buddy ripped off his hat and threw it on the ground and ran out to stand in the defensive line, leaving the enraged Kaiser searching in vain for the person to pulverize.
So when I saw the bite on the World Cup, first I was horrified then I laughed thinking “If Luis Suarez had bitten Kaiser, he’d be paralyzed!”
I rescued a woman the other day. She wandered pushing her bicycle on the path where others jogged and pedaled robustly by. She was sure she would be all-right when I asked, just a bit of nausea and the wind was blowing so hard. There was a breeze I agreed, and walked my bike along the path with her- just until she felt better.
I could stop someone – call 911, but she insisted was just a bit dizzy, nothing serious. I understand about ER’s – how about I call your doctor. She had a doctor, she just couldn’t recall his name. She was sure her house was nearby – somehow the street name was just beyond reach. We got her home, and she let me call 911 and watch the fire-truck roll up lights flashing with the ambulance right behind. As I rode my bike home in those last rays of sun that are harbingers of darkness I though of how fragile we are.
I thought of rugby as I pedaled through the dusk. Only teammates can hide your weakness. When you’ve hit your opposite time and time again until it hurts you just to drive your shoulder into him and in spite of it he runs through you – you depend upon teammates to bring him down. Or when you’re vulnerable, defenseless waiting for the high kick to settle into your arms as two or three tacklers charge down upon you, the first hit you take, or the fifth or sixth. Eventually, without a teammate to cover or support the eyes will wander, the arms flinch just before the blow strikes, leaving the ball bouncing freely, possession lost. Pushed to our limits, we break.
Sometimes I think it would be good to be a machine.
YARS – yet another rugby story
The silence of rugby always intrigued me. In games only the captain could address the referee without incurring a penalty. Save your breath for running my teammates advised. They challenged us to play like the Welsh National Team – silently, even the captain only addressing the referee in a whisper. It didn’t make sense to trash talk ( an outlandish idea back then ) since everyone was only one tackle away from being unprotected at the bottom of a pile.
So we talked, but it was always of strategy, or “with you”, “on your left.”
For our last rugby match in England, five games in ten days with no snap left in our legs, we were a step slow. Our opponent was tough, they had seen us beat their two local rivals and they came out hard. Just a few minutes into the match their fullback sucker punched me in the jaw when I ran by, the lone referee looking away.
I gingerly made it over to the sidelines where the doctor ( who had bet heavily on us ) popped it back in, patted me on the butt and said cheerily “Now get back in there and keep tackling!”
Our legs were heavy, they were fierce tacklers, and I was pissed. “Bruce – kick up and unders, we’ll get it.” Pauly, built like a five-foot-eight inch incredible hulk, and hulk like impervious to pain nodded. Time and time again Bruce kicked the ball forty yards high and twenty yards down the middle of the field where only their fullback could field it with Pauly and I racing down. To let it drop meant we picked it up at speed, to catch it was to let one or both of us drive him into the turf.
If I hit him with my shoulder as hard as I could and drove him earthward, Pauly’s hits smashed him. Still he was brave and took the beating and they held the lead with just moments remaining. Once more Bruce lofted a high arching kick, the brown Gilbert ball floating against the September sky as Pauly and I sprinted toward their fullback who stood waiting, one eye on us, one on the gently descending ball.
Maybe it was the sun, but the ball floated down, bounced off the fullback’s chest and Pauly scooped it up in stride and stormed over the goal with the winning score.
Through the whole match, their fullback and I never exchanged a single word.
The Moral: Sometimes words are unnecessary
YARS – yet another rugby story
In the US, we would go out to a field, stick up some goal posts, paint some lines and play. Not to say we didn’t have fit and talented guys, but it was the spontaneous Americans against the formal English here. On tour in in England, the teams had clubhouses with manicured grounds and locker rooms. Instead of stretching and then kicking off, we warmed up running in place inside the locker room, counting as our spikes sung against the concrete floor. In the other locker room we could hear them doing the same so we chanted louder, poured out onto the field ran to position and the match began.
The first play Paulie, who looked like a terrorist and played just as ferociously, slammed down their runner. They tried to sneak in their fullback in the line to have an overload and I caught him from behind punched the ball out, wrapped my arms around him, arched my back and rode him like a body board face first into the ground. They weren’t going to run on us.
But rugby is two games, the grinding, mauling, smashing of the scrum, and the slashing long runs, cutting and chasing of the backs. This match settled into they kicking the ball down-field until close where their scrum tried to smash it over for a try ( touchdown ) and us attacking every time we had the ball, ripping up long runs.
I was a back, this was great fun – we had the lead with ten minutes left in the match and I glanced into the scrum. Kenny P_ the farm-boy prop-forward with shoulders as wide as two men had tape wrapped crookedly over his forehead, he looked like a pirate sliced him with a cutlass. Jerry D_ ( of the yard of beer ), bled from a cut under his eye and every scrum player of ours was bleeding.
It was a fierce last ten minutes. When the whistle blew, we led by a single point and victory on foreign soil was ours. No matter what happened the tour was a success.
After the game, rugby players form a line, and walk through and shake hands with every other player, and I still take pleasure in how stunned they were to lose after they had mocked us before the match.
The Moral: Take every opponent seriously, anything else just adds fuel to the fire
YARS – yet another rugby story
There’s nothing like going on tour of another country to play sport. We were forty or so rugby players, girlfriends and wives off to Brighton, Sussex, Hove and London for matches in fall 1982. It was five matches in ten days which meant sightseeing, hard matches and harder parties.
We had a great flight, if drinking and singing for seven hours is your cup of tea. I suppose now they would have ejected us into the Atlantic, but we were just excitable boys, and flights in those days had no movies. No one having slept we landed took the train down to Sussex and split up into the various houses we would be staying in. Marrieds and couples got the nicest place, I landed in a group with eight fine fellows in a little flat above a glass shop, where the milk man stopped by each morning with two bottles of fresh whole milk, and then there was the wild house for the rest.
Under strict orders to stay up till night, so we could get on schedule for rest, we stumbled across the countryside like zombies until that night’s practice and reception. Our first opponent had agreed to let us use their practice field for a run through and then offered drinks and a chance to meet before our first match against them.
That evening, I was so tired that running one hundred yards left me wheezing. Nobody could catch the ball, and one person tried to catch a booming kick and it hit him right on the top of the head. We looked to be a sad assortment, and our hosts who would be playing against us the next night were more than rude in their comments.
Our honor was restored by Jerry D. our big second row chugging an entire yard of beer and expertly turning it so the last swallow didn’t come roaring down like a tsunami and drench him.
I believe the chant that accompanied him went:
He ought to be publicly pissed on
He ought to be publicly shot
and left in a public urinal
to lie there and fester and rot …
of course followed by cheers of disbelief upon his quaffing of the entire 2.5 pints.
Next, the first match and “first blood”
YARS – yet another rugby story
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