So the season has started properly. While there was some hope that I would launch myself into it like raging bull, I seem to be limping in like a gelded mule.

I haven’t trained anything like the amount that I should, and while I’ve dusted the weights off and shifted some fat from my belly, Men’s Health will not be knocking at my door any time soon.

Despite the pre season lethargy and absence from the training pitch, at the ripe old age of 42 I’ve been able to rely on peoples sun drenched memories of passed glories. It was with astonishment that I saw the team sheet with my name on it, it was with horror that I saw I was starting.

No doubt one of the things that got me in the team was a willingness to play. It was the furthest we will have to travel for a fixture and that often means that peoples injuries keep them in bed that tad more than they do for the home games. For me, I need to take every opportunity this season sends so Saturday morning I was on the bus heading to the other side of the country to test out my fitness. This would be my first prolonged piece of exercise since the last game of last season (where I won Man of the Match and we got promoted to the next league up). It was going to be a step up in terms of the skill of the opposition and in theory the intensity was going to be higher.

By God it was. While in the league below every team had 3 people who looked like they’d escaped from an old people’s home and 3 who had wandered away from their babysitter after the stair gate had been left open, this team all looked a tad too athletic. The big difference was the tackling. It was harder to break through. It was harder to make ground. They didn’t particularly slow down later in the game and they had decent levels of skill. We turned up with a good team and while we had a decent go at them, they wanted it more and could execute their moves better. You can’t really resent a team that scores 3 length of the field tries under relentless pressure but it was a bit bloody annoying.

For my part it was a frustrating experience. I wasn’t allowed to play 8 which frustrates me as the best thing I offer is running at people with the ball in my hand. Tucked in at 6 I ran slowly around the park. I gave away 2 penalties in the first minute leading to a warning from the ref before the sound of the kick off whistle had faded away. Luckily they were my last penalties of the game and while I turned over some ball, made my tackles and did ‘enough’, at the end I wasn’t particularly delighted with my performance.

One of the motivations for retiring at the end of the year is some of the memories of my earlier days. I remember going along to a match, seeing some white haired old duffer turn up and get a sinking feeling in my stomach because I knew we’re going to have to give him a game and thus lower our chances of winning. I never want to have that impact on my team mates. I suspect theres murmurings of it now hence the need to get off the park. Having a terrible game is an awful experience. Having a terrible game while knowing you’re playing because people have taken pity on you is utterly soul destroying.

Towards the end we managed to score and theoretically we could still win. They kicked off and a towering high ball lurked ominously in the air with me standing below it like a condemned man. I caught it, one of the opposition thundered into me and I offloaded before turning around to pick up pieces of my spine. It had hurt. I jogged over to the coaches. “I think I’m done” I explained. “Oh no you’re not” they replied, “There’s no one else left. Back you go”.

I shuffled slowly over to the line out and explained that on this occasion, any lack of effort on my part would be entirely deliberate. 2 minutes later we were not winning the game and the opposition were touching down for a try they had sprinted 80 meters for. The try was celebrated by a 28 man brawl. There was no way I was going to get anywhere near it. I called over to the closest opposition player and explained I wasn’t going to run the length of the field to join in, but perhaps we could have a small fight on the 22, just to show willing. He declined my kind offer so I suggested that we kiss each other to display an image of peace and unity to our warring comrades. He didn’t want to do that either.

They were still fighting by the time we walked over. Eventually the whistle had been blown enough and while the ref dealt out cards like a manic croupier, the final kick of the game sailed through our posts. The opposition came over and shook hands with us and people who had been punching each other seconds before were now patting each other on the back and congratulating their opposite numbers on the way they played. I don’t know if this happens to the same extent in other sports but it is one of the magical elements of rugby for me and something I shall dearly miss.

I went home some after the match with my ribs hurting beyond belief. When I got out of the car 90 minutes later I was in so much pain I couldn’t finish a sentence. Obviously this didn’t stop me going for a quick drink with some friends and happy in the knowledge that even if my ribs were broken there was nothing the hospital could do, I opted to stay home and medicate myself. Once I had collapsed unconscious while talking to my daughter people got a bit more excited on my behalf and it was in A&E that I flicked through my phone and discovered the opposition had awarded Man of the Match to “The old guy in the scrum cap”. That made me feel a damn sight better than any of the tablets.

I was ok. The ribs still hurt and it meant I was on the sidelines this week watching the team. I’m going to have to get training as the squad was full and I’m going to have to get in there on merit. Hopefully the ribs will be ok and I think we have a week off next week so plenty of time to heal up. A mixed start but an encouraging one none the less.

One more season….

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