Gettysburg Saturday was great! Photos here. It would have been a perfect ten on the Event-O-meter, except our pard Chris was missing, so we declared it to be a nine.
A reader named Slats wrote, "Tell us about your rugby career." I already have. It's all here, in excruciating detail, starting with my "Rugby Rookie's Journal," near the top. Every practice session, every match, every party, in my usual compulsively documentational style.
The executive summary is as follows: I played 83 matches from 1998 to 2006, some of them a full match (two 40 minute halves), most of them b-sides (30 or 35 minutes per half), some of them cut short due to injury. I was active with my club - Western Suburbs RFC - for fourteen seasons. I was given three awards at the end of the year club banquets (of which I am enormously proud - they hang on my office wall): "Most Improved" in my rookie season, "Best Forward B" and the "Greg Gregory Award," a special thing due to the enormous amount of club administrative work I did. I never scored a try, not one. Not one solitary point ever put on the board by yours truly. Why not?
Part of the problem was that I normally played in the second row position. If you're playing in position, that is, playing to ensure good, playable ball gets out to the backs, you're not going be set up to score very often. Another obvious reason is that I was old (42 when I began) and generally slow and out of breath!
But there were many heartbreaking near trys. Twice I had the ball within striking distance of the try line, against a club with famously poor tacklers. You might know, the guys facing me on both occasions were lent to the opposition by our club - and they well knew how to tackle. Another time I was oh-so-close, but a opposition player managed to grab and hold on to my ankle, which brought me down. In my last season, I was well-positioned for a try; nobody was in front of me - and it was a clear run. Our fly-half, Elvis, knew I had faded back and was ready to toss me the ball once it came out of the scrum. It finally did, sloppily, rolling crazily on the ground, and Elvis never got it. Consequently, neither did I.
In one match an Old Boy had simply flipped me the ball in what didn't look like a formal line out. I did nothing with it; it was then I learned that in rugby a quick, informal toss-in was perfectly legal and could be played upon. In another match, the same fellow - an Old Boy friend of mine - had set up a special line out play specifically designed for me to score from (my lack of my first try was now well-known in the club) that, for some reason, an officious referee disallowed. By my last season I had ruefully pretty much given up, figuring that it just wasn't in the cards.
I did, however, mightily participate in a few pack tries - these are exhausting affairs when someone gets the ball near the try line and the forward pack gets together in a maul and shoves and heaves a struggling mass of humanity over the line. I was an excellent shover, and in one of these I saw stars after we were done. Whew.
Lamentably, perhaps my all-time greatest rugby moment was one dealing with revenge. In one match, my opposition player #4 (left lock) was a guy about my height, that is, 6' 4". I was about 280 pounds at the time, he was perhaps 250. He appeared to be a few years younger than I, but he was a fellow Old Boy (over age 35). Old Boys tend to play mean and dirty, and this guy was no exception. In one play, when I was on the ground in a ruck, he made a point of deliberately stepping on my arm with his boots. (Rugby boots have 1" aluminum studs - they hurt.) I looked at him and he looked at me. I gave him a raised eyebrow, "Is this how we're going to play this match, old fella?" look and he smirked. A smirk. Okay. We'll see about educating him some.
About fifteen minutes later, during play, sure enough, he got the ball within striking distance of me. I got up a bit of speed and hit him with everything I had, aiming for the stomach. I also had a little technique where I was able to ride players down, that is, use my weight advantage to fall upon them once he got to ground. Perfectly legal, but he must have felt like he was hit by a freight train. BAM. An "oooohh" issued from the guys watching the match on the sidelines, and the other fellow didn't get up after I had.
The ref blew the whistle, calling for a short break to see if an injury had occurred, and stood over the player, who, after about thirty seconds, very slowly got to his feet, rubbing his shoulder. I looked at him with the same raised eyebrow look, "Do we understand each other now?" and he looked back at me with sort of a rueful expression that, frankly, was worth the try I never made. I exchanged smiles with my friend Kelly who saw the whole thing from the sidelines, and continued with the match. Afterwards Kelly said, "Brigham, that hurt to watch!"
One another occasion an unstoppable force met an unmovable object when me and a guy my size slammed into each other in a tackle; we both somehow wound up on our backs, dazed. We sat up and stared groggily at each other. It was actually rather funny. At the party he and I discussed it. He said, grinning, "Geez, that was unpleasant!" Geez, it was.
Anyone who has ever played rugby for any length of time has some injury stories; we like to say, "You only have so many rugby matches in you." I had a rib or two bruised on a couple of occasions, and once, a rib was popped out of the cartilage near my sternum in a scrum; that's a distinctly unpleasant feeling - it's like being de-boned. I once tore the longus and brevis tendons in my ankle. For weeks afterwards a tendon would loosen and slip across the ankle bone unexpectedly, shooting a pain. That was special. And once, in a scrum, I painfully hurt a back muscle. I figured it was healed the week after to enable me to play, and discovered it wasn't in a scrum when I couldn't hold and collapsed the entire formation - an awful experience. (It's like being pushed to the ground by your head.) Finally, whenever I look into a mirror I see a scar over my left eye from a practice session, where a guy had stepped on my forehead with a boot stud. Blood everywhere. And there were various other arm, back and leg bruises. I still have shoulder pains from my most recent season, four years ago.
I sometimes miss rugby. As was the case in my time spent in the Marine Corps, I never achieved much, but I was proud of having taken part.
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