15-a-side solidarity

17 March 2012

Wales have won the Grand Slam and I have grown to love rugby. Over the
past weeks I have been completely captivated by the Six Nations and I don’t quite know how this has happened, because I used to hate it. I look back to those bitterly cold afternoons up on
the hills above the Gordano Valley near Bristol where the weather always seemed to hover somewhere between horizontal sleet and hail.

I’d loved playing football for my primary school and for the local electricity board team, Portishead Sparks. It seemed unjust that I had been sent to a rugby school at 11. I was small,
skinny and increasingly short-sighted. Rugby provided the proof in brutal sporting form of the disastrous decision my parents had made to send me to a school 11 miles away from home, where I knew
no one and everyone was better at rugby than me. I made one appearance for the Under-13s B-team against Bristol Cathedral School which ended 0-0. And that was it for me and competitive rugby.


I’ve always been able to enjoy a good game on the telly. I can watch pretty much any sport if I put my mind to it. But I never loved rugby.

Perhaps 9/11 changed that — was it a coincidence that the men who tackled the hijackers of United 93 were rugby players? I wonder. Is there something about the physical courage demanded of
this game that can raise its players above the common herd? This is a game that demands of its individual players that they accept pain as part of their contribution to the team effort. Solidarity
built from personal sacrifice.

I now know that part of the reason I hated rugby is that I couldn’t face the fact that I lacked just that physical courage the game demands. I can now accept this about my younger self. And
it is one of the reasons I have such admiration for the young men who play it with such skill and commitment. Unlike football, I can watch rugby without the faintest whiff of pathetic
identification. At no point in my life have I ever dreamed of playing rugby for my country.

I had an inkling of  this sentiment when I watched England’s World Cup victory in 2003. Then I just felt it was patriotism and the fact that my newborn son was curled on my lap as an
unknowing witness to sporting history. Now I know it is something else. It is awe.

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  • rndtechnologies786

    Good and positive blog.

  • Hayward

    I also played football at various primary schools and enjoyed it, becoming reasonably skilful by 11 or 12.

    Then come time, in the late 1950s for secondary school and my parents, with a father in the British Army decided that I would go to a boarding school, Catholic at that.

    The school played Rugby Union in first Term with Sevens in 2nd Term, Hockey in Second Term and Cricket in third term with Rowing and Tennis all year.

    There were a number of other boys who like me had been raised on football. Guess what? All us were faster, nimbler, could kick with both feet and had a much better sense of positional play than most who had started playing Rugby before us.

    The boy who was fly half that I played with for most of the time, from age teams to 1st XV as a centre, was of Italian origin as were a couple of other boys.

    He was that good left or right foot that he could consistently put a ball within a metre square almost anywhere on the field. A well as pop left or right foot drop kicks over the bar from anywhere close to the 25.

    They were all keen Chelsea fans. I supported Fulham!

    In fact he, the fly half and another tall boy of Italian origin who played number 8 and was the main goal kicker were playing football locally when on holidays. They were even offered trials with Chelsea!

    I am not sure of the 11 September tie in!

    I was concussed several times, but the coach as did most coaches in those days did not seem to worry about it too much! Maybe these people on that plane had been concussed once too often.

    My last concussion was in 1965 playing at the Oxford Sevens. We had won the first game BUT then came up against Llanelli Grammar. For whom Terry Price was playing while he had also been selected for the Welsh Rugby Union Team.

    We lost not by a great deal but when we came off the field I came to. Apparently I had tackled TP hard at sometime in the first half. That means I had played through the rest of the half, changed ends and played the second half! Obviously only mild concussion!

    Thanks to Sevens I also have a knee injury that blew up in my 40’s from playing on frost hard ground and coming off with it ballooned up and a coach saying it will be OK just put ice on it!

    Maybe you should be grateful for a short Rugby career!

    I would have much preferred to play football!

  • David Pilkington

    I live in London and thought England vs Ireland was throughly boring. As long as you can just belt it out and get 3 points for a drop goal Union isn’t going to be regarded as the game for handling skills. Having said that Wales vs England was fascinating but the idea that the 6 Nations serves up constant quality is ludicrous… ever watched Scotland?

  • Austin Barry

    Surely, as Rod Liddle often points out, it is an unsophisticated game designed for middle-class, latent homosexuals: the rear-presenting, inner-thigh-gripping intimacy of the scrum, the alpha-male sado-masochism of the ruck, the testicular shape of the ball.

    Crouch, touch, pause, engage, ooooooohhhhh.

  • Bridgendraven

    Where do you live Bill. Up North?
    Please dont use this forum as an opportunity to have a go at Union.
    Though the minority sport you are getting so excited about needs flagwavers like you I suppose.

  • Mr. Green

    Rugby should be played more in schools. Rugby is so inclusive. Regardless of size and physical strength, there’s a position for you – so long as you are willing.
    I played for my school team from age 11 until I left, and I loved every minute of it.
    And still do.
    Well done Wales. And well done England for fielding such a highly spirited side.

  • Bill Rees

    Martin, have you grown to love rugby, or the nationalistic hype that goes with it at Six Nations time?
    Rugby union internationals seem to be one of the relatively few occasions now in which English nationalism can be celebrated.
    If you really do love rugby for its own sake, I suggest that you take a look at rugby league.
    More movement, more skill, more intelligence, more genuine excitement! The former Today presenter Brian Redhead described rugby league as ‘chess with muscle’.
    With Shaun Edwards for Wales, and Andy Farrell for England, it’s interesting to see that rugby league has contributed some of its best coaching talent to the inferior code.
    Eventually I’m sure that the chatterati in the south will come to understand the merits of rugby league.

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