Skip's Diary A turn up for the books!

February 14, 2017

As I write this, something amazing is happening. In your world and in that of those around you, it’s something you’ll barely notice. But in mine, it’s huge, and it’s a culmination of three years’ worth of commitment, blood, sweat and tears.

Or, certainly, a fair amount of the first three. The tears will come if our season ends in the tremendous way in which it has started, because despite being a broad shouldered, tree-trunk-legged front row forward, I’m a soppy and sentimental bastard at heart, and no more so than when it concerns my team.

The lads that represent us – a 2nd XV from a small Cambridgeshire market town that somehow punches above its weight by being able to sustain a rugby club at all – are currently performing better than they ever have.

So well, in fact, that we’re currently sitting pretty at the top of the table, having won all but one of our games since the start of the season (the other score was a 22-22 draw that was as thrilling as the scoreline suggests) and the crowning glory came last weekend, when we usurped the league-leading club in a 27-24 victory in front of a home crowd.

Okay, that means about 20 people, but they’re 20 people who care about us as much as we care about them, and that’s what club rugby is all about.

The winning try was the stuff of fairy tales, scored three minutes ahead of the final whistle by a very nervous lad, Graeme, who came on for the last 15 as sub for the first time since badly breaking his leg 18 months earlier.

You couldn’t have made it up, and I couldn’t have been happier, nor more genuine, when I gave him one of my burliest man hugs at full-time. Quite frankly, I could have kissed the guy.

So why the turnaround?

After all, less than a year ago, I wrote in this column about the trials and tribulations of turning up with 12 or 13 men of various levels of ineptitude to take a major spanking off local rivals.

Well, two things have happened that are an absolute credit to my squad, and to the legions of grassroots rugby clubs across the UK that have no doubt harnessed the same passion and enthusiasm and turned it into something wonderful.

First, the lads have started playing together as one. Rather than just a bunch of faces who turn up with their boots every Saturday they’re a bunch of regular faces who turn up every Saturday, rip the piss out of each other, steal each other’s sock tape and hide their mates’ undercrackers while they’re taking a shower. It’s called being part of a team, and the fact you can spar with each other in the banter stakes is just one of the pillars from which success, respect and trust are built up. Nowhere is this more important than on the field of battle…

Second, and perhaps more importantly, we’ve had an injection of youth thanks to four young lads that have come into the team from our club’s youth system. They’ve been playing together since they were 10, which may only be seven or eight years ago and makes me old enough to be their dad, but I tend to bury my head in the sand when I think about that.

What it does show, though, is that the investment our club puts into age-grade rugby pays fantastic dividends. These boys will grow up with great friends, with excellent discipline and with the knowledge that they made a difference to the club, and to men often twice their age who already respect their talents and are happy to mentor them as gentlemen. It is, to coin a well-used phrase, what comes from being part of the rugby family.

Meanwhile, their combination of speed, enthusiasm and outright skill (which I don’t tell them about too much, as there are few combinations as dangerous as a young man and his ego) has given our team an extra 10 per cent, and at national level 12, having a little bit of extra gas in the tank is the difference between success and failure.

So, will we be cruising Market Street in an open top bus at the end of the season, as we hand round a bottle of port to the cheers of hundreds of townspeople? Well, it’s early days yet. But if we get promotion this season, then I’ll be a very happy skipper indeed. But more than that, I’ll have the most incredible pride in my team, and in grassroots rugby and everything it stands for...

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