Monday, October 24, 2005

Hitchin A Ride...

There’s no clever or witty way of building into this; so I’m just gonna come right out and say it: I played my first game of rugby in eight years on Saturday!

And, boy, am I still suffering from it two days later!!

(Before any of the female readers decide that this will be nothing but a boring rugby tale I’d like to point out that it includes a very close encounter with Gwyneth Paltrow that you’ll need to keep reading to learn more about)

Despite having a rugby career that spans nine seasons and having watched the sport almost twice as many years as that this was a rugby experience I was completely unprepared for… mainly because I was text on midnight of game day asking if I “wanted to come have a run with the Hampstead 5ths?”

Given my biased opinion about the quality of British rugby and having assumed a little too much about what constitutes 5th grade rugby I figured to myself, and replied to the text, that “it can’t hurt”.

Famous last words.

The Hampstead RFC 5th Graders were about to give me a rugby experience far removed from what I am used to. For starters, the Middleton Grange Christian School First XV never met at the pub three hours before kick-off. Nor did my 1stXV have a 5’2” West Indian coach named (ironically for any cricket fans out there) Courtney. So there in the pub I stood, a complete stranger, in front of the Hampstead 5ths when Courtney asked me what position I preferred. “Lock”, I replied.


Laughter! Phew, I passed the first test; the team got my warped Kiwi humour. Of course lock is the last position a man of my stature would play. My preferred position is none other than halfback… or should I say scrum half; as it’s called in Britain. Yes, there are a few differences between Kiwi and British rugby. In New Zealand, rugby is a sport for every man (although our good friends from the islands seem to be the ones proving to be most successful); while in England rugby is a pursuit for those a little more financially prosperous. For instance, our No. 8 keeps his boots in a Louis Vuitton kit bag; and we all piled into an assortment of Alpha Romeos and Land Rovers for our hour long journey to the oppositions’ home ground.

Our opposition today were Hitchin 4th Grade. I have no idea where Hitchin actually is but to get there I saw parts of Greater London I could happily not see again. Now considering the late notice I was given I didn’t have time to gather together any decent attire… let alone a Louis Vuitton leather bag to carry it all in. To be honest it was a total embarrassment: my shorts were what I currently use as togs and my socks were my old 1stXV socks which drew many a smart remark. I don’t recall anyone making fun of Bob Marley whenever he was decked out in green, red, yellow and black. Worst of all I didn’t even have rugby boots; instead I opted for my old adidas Samoa trainers which I claimed were a suppositious choice and “helped me channel the power of Va’aiga Tuigamala”.


Laughter! Another close call avoided. Not surprisingly, I also passed the sprig inspection test and then it was game time. Courtney wisely choice to start me off the bench; meaning I’d have the second half to unleash eight years of pent-up rugby-less aggression. And when the second half began all eight years of pent-up rugby-less aggression was promptly extinguished as I literally collapsed after running from the kick-off to the first scrum. All Black debutantes claim that their first test experience is so quick it feels like it’s over before it’s even started. Well, I can tell you my first experience of 5th Grade rugby seemed to take forever as I willed the referee to blow that final whistle so I could lie down. Sadly, there were still another 39 minutes left when that thought entered my head.

Now, before the game my new team mates offered some good natured ribbing about New Zealanders having invented the art of rucking. I found this rather bemusing considering I believe the English to be the dirtiest bunch of sportsmen to ever step foot on a rugby field. And I was hugely conscious of this when I found myself at the bottom of a ruck just three minutes into the second half. Forgetting the little tricks I learnt during my 1stXV years I did the stupid thing of placing my hands on my head to protect it from the incoming storm of sprigs. Protecting one’s head may sound like exactly the action to take when being trampled upon but I assure you it’s not. What in fact you are doing is leaving your armpits exposed to the opposition. Now, it may seem incredibly homoerotic for the opposition to drag the soles of their boots across your armpits but believe me when you’re back in the changing room after the match and you forgetfully spray Lynx deodorant across the ripped and torn flesh you soon remember you’ve been part of a rugby match!

That shock was to come later because the second half was still underway. Despite the opposition being a grade above us we were dominant; winning 35-5. The person responsible for allowing Hitchin their one and only try was none other than yours truly. Hithcin had a five metre scrum and after screaming at my team mates not to let them cross the try line I followed the ball to the back of their scrum. Spying it pop out past the last man’s feet I hacked it away with my adidas. The ref’ immediately penalised me; and while I *cough* calmly *cough* discussed with the referee just how much of the ball he'd like to pass the No. 8’s feet before he constitutes it out the opposition halfback had taken a quick tap and dived across the line unopposed.

Still, a seven tries to one victory isn’t a bad way to come out of rugby retirement but my next mission was to make it all the way back into Central London’s West End for a red carpet premiere of Proof which Hayley was sneaking me into. Running a touch late for my sneaky entry I had to bustle my way through a maul of fans, swerve by a scrum of journalists, and side-step past the security before I had a clear run up the red carpet and into the theatre. But with the metaphorical try line in sight I was suddenly blinded by thousands of flash bulbs. Regaining my sight I realised I was but one metre from Gwyneth Paltrow’s shoulder who was proving to the paparazzi that those pregnancy rumours are false. A quick goose step and I was untouched in at the corner.

OK, so it wasn’t the greatest Gwynie story but you’re still reading. Which means you got to hear about my first game back and believe me it’s better reading about it than playing it. That old analogy about feeling muscles you never knew existed is very much a truism for me right out. I’ve got a “dead arm” in my lower back and my right leg... if that makes any sense at all. And my left arm is so badly crushed that I can barely undertake taskes such as tying my shoe laces, unlocking the door, and folding my arms - which is my favourite position when travelling on the tube.

But never fear I’ll be joining the Hampstead 5th Graders this Saturday… boots and all.


At 8:25 pm, Blogger Bee said...

Hi again

For someone who tries to avoid any talk of rugby you captured me hook, line and sinker and it wasn't to catch any news on how awe struck with fame and fortune you may be.

So have you come into the attire the rich in rugby are accustomed to?

Me in little NZ hadn't heard any rumours yet of Apple gaining a sibling we must be behind the times here.

Well take care

B, M, I & D

p.s. Dayna has 2 teeth and nearly rolling and Isaiah can say "NO".

At 8:31 pm, Anonymous Anita said...

Hi Randall
That had me in stiches of laughter. But of course not about the pain you're in ;)

Sounds like you might actually have had fun with teh Brits, how else would you explain away playing again this coming weekend.

I wonder if some "training" before the game might keep you busy for a afternoon or two.

Hope you win this weekend, but regardless I'm sure there'll still be a story to tell.


At 11:50 pm, Anonymous Phantom48 said...

As the girls have agreed - hilariously funny! Felt I was in that game with you all the way (and feeling each ache and pain too) What a come-back!! Way to go!!
So despite the side-step, are we likely to see any shots of Gwyneth with you in the background?
Keep the stories coming Randall - it's been too quiet the last few weeks.
Luv - Mum

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