Sunday, May 18, 2008

Rugby Conkers All

(I read this on RTE's Sunday Miscellany some time ago. So I decided I'd stick it up here for the fun of it.)
It’s always nice to finish a career as you started it.
In my case, my rugby career ended some 33 years after it began. And in a scene worthy of the Twilight Zone, it ended exactly as it began - with the referee pointing to the dressing room and telling me to get myself there forthwith.
I dispute both decisions.
Let me start with the first one.
It was in Willow Park School in Dublin, nursery to Blackrock College, itself a nursery for great rugby players like Brian O’Driscoll, Fergus Slattery and Brendan Mullin.
I can boast no lofty achievements like that trio.

But on this occaasion, I had proudly lined out in my blue and white hoops for the first time. Willow Under Nines were taking on their arch rivals from that other Holy Ghost rugby school St Mary’s College.
It was a fresh autumn day, I remember. We were winning. And they scored a consolation try.
We retreated behind the posts for the conversion which was duly missed.
And then fourteen of our team ran to the half way line for the kick off.
I, alone, remained behind the posts.
It was, as I saId, autumn. The leaves were brown. And the ground behind the goal was covered in fallen chestnuts, conkers as we called them. It was too good a moment to miss.
I mean, we’d won the game. There were only minutes left. And I felt it would not have any influence on the result if I were to take the opportunity to stuff my pockets with conkers. I was sure I was doing nothing wrong.
Brother Luke, however, took a divergent view.
He believed, mistakenly I was certain, that collecting conkers during a game was against the laws of rugby. He duly sent me off in disgrace.
In the intervening years I happily played rugby having studied the laws to ensure that no such fate would befall me again.
I was, of course, correct about the laws in relation to collecting conkers and Brother Luke was wrong. Nowhere is it written that collecting conkers during a game is an offence. In fact, it is perfectly legal to collect conkers during a line out, scrum or maul, though I must admit, it is not something I have seen happen since at any level.
If they wanted it to be an offence, it would be. The laws of rugby run to some 30,000 words when you include myriad subclauses, additional regulations and referee instructions.
Law 19, subsection 13 - for example - states that a player not carrying the ball is offside if, after the ball has touched a player or the ground, that player steps in front of the ball, unless tackling (or trying to tackle) an opponent. Any attempt to tackle must start from that player’s side of the ball.
I hope that’s clear.
Having digested at least the important laws, I began a memorable career.
The first try - in the snow - on the front pitch at St Mary’s in Rathmines.
The match winning try against Pres Bray on the pitch near the tennis courts in Willow.
The fumble on the line against St Michael’s, third of the three Dublin Holy Ghost schools at the time, that resulted in their last minute try and our only defeat of the year at U 13s.
The moment Fr Nudie Boyle told me I was dropped from the junior cup team.
The heady heights of the thirds at senior level.
The third Es in the the club.
And the World Golden Oldies tournament in Dublin in 1993 where 5,000 rugby players from around gathered to play.
And that’s where it all ended. On a muddy field in Belfield. In ignominy. I was playing with CYM from Terenure in Dublin. And we were proud and happy, maybe a little smug, after winning our first two games well.
When it came to the third and final match, I was asked if I would like the honour of being captain against the Australian side. Brilliant, I thought, though I did wonder why some team mates were sniggering.
The Aussies emerged, brick outhouses to a man, with two former internationals in their side.
It didn’t auger well.
And it only got worse when the referee arrived and bid us all ‘g’day’ in a broad antipodean accent.
He gave us nothing. Not a scrum, not a penalty, nothing.
It was all too much.
I cracked.
I can’t remember what I called him. I think one of the words was ‘biased.’ The other was something along the lines of cad or bounder. Maybe a bit stronger.
He wasn’t impressed.
And for the second time in my long career, I was asked to leave the pitch.
I walked the long walk to the sideline, my head hung low.
In shame?
Not one bit of it.
It was autumn again.
And I was looking for chestnuts.

1 comment:

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