Something very peculiar happened last weekend, and despite the fact it was, in many respects, a wonderful moment, it also left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Our often hapless, sometime hopeless, always fearless 2nd XV travelled to an away game an hour away, and against all odds we came away with a victory.
Not just any old victory, either, but a 51-19 big fat ‘W’ that, by the time we’d abandoned our cars at our clubhouse and decided to open the bar in the result’s honour, had become one of our all-time classic, nay, historic performances.
Indeed, it was, and it deserved the impromptu session as much as I deserved the flea in the ear I got from the missus for coming home steaming drunk on the wrong side of midnight.
We’ve won six this season, which is about six times as many as we normally win, and the main reason for that is simply because the boys are enjoying their rugby. From 17-year old lads to 50-something dads, we’re having an absolute blast.
The team, which coming from a small market town in rural Cambridgeshire, doesn’t have a huge population of players to draw from, has a core of regulars and a sense of morale that hasn’t been with us for ages. And while I’m not one for tooting my own horn after just five months’ of being skipper, it feels bloody wonderful to see them having such a good time – not least because I’ve been part of the squad (a semi-shit utility forward) for the past three seasons and never before have we had such a giggle.
Something has happened.
We’ve come together as a team, and results like last Saturday’s are proof that, in the right environment, you don’t have to be the best team in the world to have a good day.
We’re not, but on Saturday we sure as well did. And when I’m even older and more knackered than I am now (38, thanks for asking), it’s one I’ll never forget.
As I said to the lads after the game, they could happily go home and tell their WAGs, with impunity, that on Saturday afternoon they’d managed to put a great big smile on the face of an ageing hooker…
So why the bitter aftertaste? Well, it seems our opponents were sore losers.
Last season, they didn’t so much beat us as kick our sorry arses into next week. And because they couldn’t believe the improvement in our game, they decided we’d cheated.
Now, most captains at my level will tell you this. Some weeks, every player who is registered with the club wants a game.
You end up beating them off with a stick, and then feel really guilty on Saturday for dropping some of your loveable, reliable mongrels in favour of talent.
Or, if you’re like me, you don’t always do that, and out of a sense of fairness you make sure everyone gets a game, but play each half with a team that’s partially brilliant, and partially hopeless (I count myself in the latter group – I’m only skipper because I can count to 15 and operate a mobile phone).
Other weeks, we struggle to get double figures, but we go with what we’ve got and take the kicking if we get it. After all, we do this for fun, surely?
That was the context of the email sent to our club president after our victory. Our opponents were angry because they’d turned up for a social game, and had been comprehensively battered by our ‘First XV.' To use their words, “a full compliment of young and fit players that were clearly used to a higher level…”
Whilst I and our 54-year old fly-half take that as a massive compliment, I’m afraid I did fall off my chair when I read it.
There is some background to their assumption, however.
Our 1st XV were supposed to have a home game that same day but it had been called off at the last minute.
I was genuinely gutted for my oppo, the 1st XV skipper (that ‘rivalry’ is one for a different column), as we work together every week to get the best availability for all the lads who want a game.
But I was delivered a gift from the availability fairy. And here’s the rub. The opposition assumed we’d turned up with the firsts.
I, on principle, would never let that happen and can’t decide whether I’m furious or flattered by the suggestion.
It has nothing to do with keeping the game fair and balanced, and everything to do with keeping my team as a team, getting that morale going, making sure we’re a unit who continue to support, trust and respect each other.
I’d no sooner drop one of my regulars for a 1st team megastar than consign myself to the bench. To do that would be to wipe out all of the credit I’ve built up with the boys over the season.
Having the back of my regulars is way more important than four points and we weren’t chasing a cheap victory.
Besides, we didn’t need to.
Earlier in the week, I confess I’d been struggling. I was ready to travel with 14. But it wasn’t 2nd XV availability that was the problem.
Come selection day, I’d lost six players, including both my props, to a 1st XV injury crisis. With no 1st XV game, my only sin was to text the half dozen lads I’d lost and ask them if they were still available to come and play for the 2nds, which, of course, they were. Because they’re fiercely bloody loyal.
With a full strength 2nd XV, I genuinely believe we’ve grown to become a half decent side, and that’s what we took along on the day.
It felt good. It was our moment.
And the only unsporting gesture, in my view, was for the opposing side to even question us.
That’s not rugby boys – we’re not cheats, we just work bloody hard for our all-too-occasional moments of glory, and we get a lot of heartache in between!
Not that we let that bother us, so long as there’s beer and rugby we’re happy…