30 Apr 2010
Beaten, never broken.
It was a hot day. The sun beat down on me as I walked across the hard, barely green, ground. My right hand was taped to support my weak fingers. I brought my forearm across my brow to sweep the sweat before it slipped into my eyes. My bare knees showed the cuts and scrapes of last time. My left ankle creaked as I walked. No matter; the pain would soon be replaced by adrenaline.
I looked over the field and took stock of what was about to happen. Fourteen men looked back - grim determination etched deep into their faces. I knew that this was going to be hell but my brothers in arms were there. They would sacrifice their bodies for me. I would do the same for every single one of them. As one we turned and looked at the enemy. Rage, aggression and fury took us. We would fail today - we all knew it - but by all that we were, all that we could be, we would fight until we could fight no more. We were determined to show that no matter the odds, no matter the outcome, we would be proud to call ourselves a team.
The ball went up. We chased. I pumped my legs to get there, to stop the play, to prevent an early shaming. I drew close and watched their receiver brought to the ground. I joined the pile of bodies that surrounded the break down, forcing my weight over the ball, feeling the rough embrace of my team bind on and drive. Every fibre of my being willing the opposition back. The smell of musk, dust and Deep-Heat filled my nostrils.
Later, there was a break by the terrible opposition. I ran, feeling the turf pound the soles of my feet, towards him barely considering his huge physical advantage. I flung my body towards the giant. My hope was that the contact would be good. I smashed my shoulder into his stomach and started to club my feet into the solid earth. He caved, dropping into touch as he went down. We won the ball.
A lineout. I leapt clear towards the hot sun, reaching for the most precious thing on the pitch. The lifters in front and behind held me suspended. I was in their trust. One wrong foot and they would let me crash back down, thudding my fragile body against the ground. I leaned, caught and passed, relieved that I had won the contest and that I wasn't lying mangled on the floor.
One of us tackled one of them. He dropped the ball forwards in the contact as he crumpled like a rag-doll. We scrummed down, sixteen men locked together in our own private battle. We didn't have the weight or power to compete. We lost the ball back to them. The ball was picked out and passed to their fly-half spinning gently through the air as it was caught. I detached myself from the scrum and ran as hard as I could. The ball carrier set his body into the curious half-sit, half-crouch position he adopted to kick. His kicking had been sound all day and we were growing weary of his ability to push us back deep into our own territory. I knew I was the only player chasing; knew that if I didn't get there fast enough we would be back the other side of our ten-metre line. His boot struck the ball as I leapt into the air, arms outstreatched, looking like a bedraggled Superman. The white flash of the ball struck my wrist and tumbled sideways into the awaiting arms of our full-back. Safety for now.
On our try line desperate not to concede any more points. Everyone knew that we were beaten. Hammered by try after try being scored against us, we had very little left to give and even less to play for, the result already decided. But yet, tackle after tackle went in. Bodies were given up to prevent another score. Nobody took a step back. Everybody fought.
This was my last match for the team. I was disapponted by the huge loss we took but proud to have represented the club. Proud to wear the black, gold and green.
Proud to be a man amongst men.