Skip's Diary - Remember We Are Playing For Fun

April 5, 2017

In my last column, I spoke about our team’s resurgent fortunes. About how we'd developed as a team, grown into a unit and enjoyed the best results, and with it the best morale, we'd felt in years. 

Naturally, last weekend we got a complete and utter spanking.

Admittedly, not all of it was our fault.

We were victim to one of the worst displays of refereeing we’ve ever seen, which included two awarded conversions that failed to clear the posts, and two occassions of complete amnesia when it came to shouting the scrum engagement calls.

I’m a hooker, so I can get away with saying that front row forwards are easily confused at the best of times (The rest of you can’t, because we’re bigger than you, so please remember that). Said confusion led the game towards a somewhat farcical conclusion that even Punch and Judy would have been proud of.

I make no excuses for our performance. On the day, we were second best, and our opponents deserved their victory. I have no beef with that whatsoever, and in many ways the drubbing we received was a good thing, as with just one point needed to secure second place in our league tables, it’s enough to focus our minds and sharpen our responses as we head into our last merit table game of the season.

Frustrations were rife as we walked off the pitch, though it’s an absolute testimony to my teammates (even the pretty ones that still have lots of hair) that even on the thick end of a heavy defeat, we did not call each other out. We never do, and it’s one of the things I’m proudest of about my lads.

Never, ever, do we turn on each other, and opposing teams have noticed it. It’s a bit special, and I love them for it.

But not as much as I love this fantastic sport, and on one of the hardest afternoons of our season, there was one thing that really lifted my spirits.

After the game, I was loading our dirty kit into the boot of my car (it’s a captain’s privilege, even if it does make the utility room smell a bit fruity at times) when a lady came over to talk to me.

“I just wanted to thank you and your team,” she told me. “You may have lost, but in doing so, you’ve made three people smile for the first time in three weeks.”

She went on to tell me the story.

Two of the players on our opposing side were brothers, aged 19 and 23, the younger one a flanker and the older outside centre. At the start of the month, they’d lost their dad to a sudden illness, and were understandably distraught. The lady was their mum, and was in surprisingly good spirits, in part, I expect, because that’s what she’d been drinking.

But joking aside, the farcical refereeing had been observed by both sides, to the extent that their skipper came up to me after the game to say that he, too, had no idea quite what had just happened.

However, the bereaved mother had watched her two sons play a sport that they and their dad loved; she’d seen players from both sides break into slapstick comedy routines on the pitch as the game grew ever more ridiculous, and her two boys had cracked a genuine smile for the first time since losing one of the most important people in their life.

Sure, she may have been a little bit tipsy (who can blame her, given the circumstances) but her gratitude to the way our boys had conducted themselves, by turning what could have been an ugly encounter into Benny Hill-style comedy, had been just the tonic that she and her family needed during a dark time in their lives.

I’m also proud that my team played a part in lifting their spirits, even if it was to our detriment.

Whatever we say in the changing rooms, or in the pre-match team talks, rugby is about much more than winning or losing. As the RFU slogan goes, we are all part of the rugby family. And in circumstances like these, you need your family around you. It’s just one of the reasons that I love our sport so much.

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