Sunday, February 14, 2010

The First Try

I was frustrated. And embarrassed.

I'd had the guy lined up. I figured he would get the ball any second, but I slowed down slightly, since in rugby, you're not allowed to tackle a guy without the ball. A split-second later, he had actually received the ball, and by then, it seemed too late. With my weight on the wrong foot, he quickly sidestepped and got past me.

And then, a few minutes later, it happened again. And then, it happened one more time. (It didn't help that the Comox jerseys seemed to be made out of some space-age super-slippery material). A few expletives popped into my head.

It seemed like a timing thing. I couldn't seem to get that down. I felt kind of like Steve Martin on "The Jerk", trying in vain to dance in time.

At half-time, I approached K., one of the guys who helps run the team.

"I can't seem to get my timing down with tackling", I said.

"Okay, no problem. I can tell you exactly how to tackle. You just have to remember one thing".

Wow, I thought. This is awesome! I'm about to hear the one key that will unlock the mystery forever. Never again will I miss a tackle. I just need this one vital piece of detailed information...

"All you have to do", drawled K., now staring at me very intensely, "is focus on the guy, and kill him". He waited a second, and then said again: "Kill him".

I looked - in vain - for any sign that K.'s lesson was a bit of cheeky hyperbole. In fact, his face was now drawn into a cold, brooding, squint, kind of like Clint Eastwood as the Spaghetti Western bounty killer right before he draws and, well, kills someone.

I managed to suppress the urge to swallow hard.

"Uh...isn't technique I need to remember...?"

"Yeah - KILL HIM".

In the first half, I'd actually accidentally clotheslined a guy trying to tackle him. I swung my arm out just as the guy ducked low, and the inside of my elbow hit the guy right in the throat as we were running full blast at each other. And because caving in a guy's throat (classic karate move) actually will kill him, I was very worried for a second that I'd really hurt him. As it was, he was okay. But it was impossible for me to think about trying to kill the guy I was about to tackle, after coming so close to severely injuring someone. I mean, all I wanted to do was tackle these guys, for God's sake, not live inside a serial killer alter ego...

Well, fortunately for me, we retained possession of the ball more often in the second half (meaning of course that we weren't on defence), so I didn't have to worry too much about whether to focus on remembering proper tackling technique versus imagining I was Sammy "The Bull" Gravano dealing with a ratfink. But I still longed, as I always do, to be able to contribute in some way. I play out on the wing, where one doesn't get many carries even at the best of times. But playing in a Third Division game on a muddy field makes it even less likely that the ball will be spun out wide. So far, all I'd done in the game was miss a few tackles.

But - perhaps in a miraculous example of divine intervention - that all changed in an instant. One of my teammates got the ball and began speeding down the right wing. Another guy and I chased behind in support (that is, so we could ruck over, or grab an offload, or maul across the try line). My teammate was hit a few metres from the try line, and the ball squirted backwards and towards the out of bounds line. And towards me, running full-tilt behind him.

Still at speed, I snatched the ball on the bounce before it went out; and glancing forward, saw that the only thing now stopping me from scoring a try was a Comox player standing directly on the try line, four metres in front of me. In that instant, I knew I was in. I hit him full speed, and as he tackled me, he started to flip me out of bounds. As I twisted over him still hurtling towards the out of bounds line, I slammed the ball down. Try awarded: the first try I'd ever scored in a rugby game.

A cheer went up from the Premier players watching from the balcony, and I felt a sense of relief that I'd finally actually contributed something substantial. And as it happened, I think that try tied the game. So that was pretty cool.

As we walked back to receive the kick-offs, I got a few laughs by announcing tongue-in-cheek to the other guys that from now on, I expected a lot more passes. "After all", I said. "I'm averaging one try per carry in this game".

The game ended a few minutes later in a draw, 22 to 22. Annnnd...we'll see what happens next week.