My best friend is a hooker. I am a loose forward. I do my best to support her all the while keeping my feet out of the way; lest they get stepped on. I would take on the world for her, and I have before. Okay, the world may be an exaggeration, but I have battled fifteen extremely large, angry looking women on numerous occasions. That is the point of Rugby, after all.
When I say that I am a loose forward, I do not mean that I am loose or forward, though both of those may be true; it is my position on the field. My primary job is, as the saying goes, to trample the weak and hurdle the dead. That is to say; I tackle any girl unfortunate enough to get the ball if I can catch her. I am not the fastest; if I were I wouldn’t be loose or forward. I do have impeccable timing, and in Rugby, that means a whole lot. Also, I am small for a forward; I don’t resemble a refrigerator and don’t inspire fear in the opposition. That is their fatal flaw because I hit hard. I would like to think I hit like a refrigerator might, though that is probably another exaggeration. The point is that in the sport, as is often the case with life, it is a boon to be underestimated, and I am big for my size.
Rugby is a violent sport. During the fall season, I dare not bare my legs. It is very hard to look alluring with two black and blue limbs. Once, a lady stopped me in a store after a game and advised me to leave the bastard. I told her I was too deeply in love. It is the truth. I am madly in love with Rugby. I am not the only one who feels so deeply about the sport. In fact, for every player I have met, I have yet to find one player for whom Rugby wasn’t a way of life. We are not doctors, clerks or car salesmen, we are rugby players. We work so that we can live; we live so that we can play Rugby. In truth, life would be better if it were lived as one big game.
For all of Rugby’s brutality, I have never played a more civilized game. In fact, civil isn’t an adequate word to describe the atmosphere both on and off the field. It is a game where two teams savage each other and then go out to beer afterward. Rugby is played with respect for the opposition and utmost respect for the referee. Once, in particular, I enjoyed a beer with a rugby competitor who had left her cleat marks on the inside of my thigh, across my stomach, and, well, all over me. We sat at the table, showing off our war wounds and trying to one-up each other.
“Look what you did to my leg, ” I said, proudly displaying the deeply colored and swollen bruise.
“That’s nothing,” She responded with a bright but slightly lopsided smile. “You gave me a bloody lip, look it’s still bleeding.”
All too often we think of the competition as the enemy, but this doesn’t have to be the case. The competition makes us better, and without the, we would never reach our potential. Thus, they are truly more friend than enemy.
Sometimes the referees come with red and blue lights, and the rules seem arbitrary. Really? 45 miles per hour on the parkway, who came up with that stupid rule? But, if we found ourselves getting penalized, we would be able to get much further down the field if we realized that, a: we wouldn’t be in this position if we had followed the rules, and, b: sassing the ref is likely to make the penalty worse. Imagine how much better the world would be if we treated our competitors with value. Many of today’s problems could be solved if we played the game with reverence for the rules and the referees. And, in my experience, there is very little that a beer cannot solve.
One way to get a penalty in rugby is to throw the ball forward. There is no such a thing as a forward pass in the game. The ball must be passed behind you. To move the ball up the field you need to be a team player and the ball must be passed, a lot. I work in law enforcement to support my Rugby addiction. Once, I interviewed a young lady who stole some pills from her parents. I had no doubt in my mind she had stolen the pills, and I had enough evidence to arrest her for the crime, but I had two concerns which kept me interviewing her in spite of her adamancy that she had no idea who had taken the pills. First, I was concerned about what had happened to the medication; I didn’t want another kid getting a hold of it. Second, this girl was only fifteen and I felt that arresting her would do more to hurt her than to help her. I wanted to help her, but to do that, I needed to know where the drugs were. I spent over with an hour with the girl and got nowhere. Another officer came along and wanted to give it a try. It seemed like we would be going backward since the officer had no background on the girl and would be starting the interview from the beginning, but I passed the ball anyway. In twenty minutes she knew exactly what had happened, why the girl had taken the pills and where the pills were. It mattered little who had scored the goal, the result was the same, but if I hadn’t passed the ball, the goal might never have been reached. Frequently, it is impossible to move the ball over the oppositions head. All too often we go about life as if it were a one man sport and when the time comes where a forward pass is impossible we either don’t know how to get the ball up the field, or we don’t have the teammates supporting us.
Sometimes, to give my teammates an opportunity to score I, or another forward, will run the ball, draw in the defenders, and take a tackle. This tactic is called crashing the ball, and it creates gaps in the defense. I rarely set foot in the end-zone. I am okay with this. For me, there is nothing better than crashing the ball and having a teammate score a try immediately afterward. We often get so focused on personal accomplishments that we forget the goal can be accomplished much faster and easier if we are willing to sacrifice and to relinquish the ball to another. I would argue that there is no greater honor in life than crashing the ball for a loved one.
Speaking of taking a tackle, once I am tackled I have exactly one second to release the ball behind me onto the ground. This gives the opposition a chance at snatching up the ball, and I have to trust that my teammates will be there to push the opponent back and maintain possession of the ball. I release the ball and then curl up into a fetal position and pray that I don’t take a cleat to the head. I have escaped such a fate thus far, but I have had beautifully detailed cleat marks on my legs and arms; so detailed that I could determine the shoe size from the bruise. It is quite the feeling, greeting each day and running the ball, knowing that if I get tackled my friends will be there to not only push back the opposition but also to pick up the ball and run it for me. And they know that if the tables turned, I would be there for them as well, and I would do my best not to step on their heads.
Sometimes the ball is knocked out of bounds. When this happens, we have what we call a lineout. Like in soccer, the team that did not hit to ball out gets to throw the ball back into the pitch. Each team lines up and lifts one or two players into the air in an attempt to catch the ball as it is thrown in. I thank my lucky stars that I am a forward. No one wants to lift a refrigerator, even the more compact, lighter versions. After all, I said I was small for a forward, but I am not small for a Rugby player. And since we lift by the shorts, I avoid a wedgie. How comforting it would be to know that if you got off track and knocked the ball off the field, your friends would be there to lift you up and help you regain possession of that ball, and it would only cost you the temporary discomfort of lodged shorts.
I know it ‘s hard to believe, but even noble Rugby players commit penalties. When this happens, we have a scrum, or, in other words, a big pushing match. I am human and, thus, slightly less than perfect. Only slightly less, mind you! I’ve made mistakes, on and off the field. I have been guilty of forward passes, speeding and comma splices, to name some of my more common offenses. But I have always had friends around me to help me out in my stupidity. To err is human, but imagine having other people surrounding you, supporting you and helping you push through after you err.
Should I walk into the bar after a game, I know I would find my family there. My coach would be there, providing support and wisdom. He would hand me a beer, tell me I dealt some good tackles, ask why my six-foot-four husband isn’t playing for the men’s team, ask about life and then slap me on the back. My forward friends would be there, scantily clad in undershirts and rugby shorts, proud of their marred skin. They would provide me a beer for my empty hand, and we would compare injuries. My hooker friend would be there as well, and we would talk about her position, as the hooker, on the field. We would decide together how to support each other better on and off the turf. The opposition would be there, buying rounds, discussing rugby and sharing life stories. Should I need help or solace, I know I can find it in this crowd.
For Rugby players, life is one big game, and the rules are followed on and off the field. Winning the game isn’t nearly as important as playing the game, and one needs only three things to play: a good pass, a good tackle, and a good excuse. To succeed in life, we need to get in the game and pass the ball. Don’t be afraid to take a tackle; the bruises will disappear, but the exhilaration that comes from contributing to a team lives on well after the injuries have healed. Too often we are full of excuses not to play, but only after playing the game do we get the beer.