Our blogger Kevin Eason puts nerves aside to hit the training pitch
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It’s Tuesday. Training day. I’m in and out of meetings but questions keep popping into my head. Would I make a fool of myself? Would they like me…would I like them? Would I break my leg? I decided to write a few sensible pointers down on One Note. Warm-up properly. Focus. Remember your gumshield…don’t look petrified! It seemed to settle me down. I leave work with a spring in my step feeling like I was starting my first day at school.
In truth I’m filled with optimism that I’m actually going to pretty good at this rugby lark. Mainly based on the fact that whilst running for the train that evening I darted through crowds like England superstar Jason Robinson in his pomp – in my head, anyway.
At home, with my box-fresh training gear on, the nerves started to kick in – like a large size nine straight to the stomach. Oh My God. I’m an idiot! Why am I doing this? Every year at school, without fail, my reports would end with, ‘Kevin needs to think before he acts’. Now at the age of 36, history was repeating itself.
With the rain teaming down outside, it was time to go. Next stop Westcliff RFC!
On arrival, I walked towards the pitches feeling very much like I was about to walk the plank.
First to spot me was Dave Cole, the club captain. He waves and ushers me into a circle of about eight blokes passing a few balls around chatting and laughing about last week’s game.
I instantly feel out of my depth. Like a second year student plunged into the fifth year’s PE lesson. I was by far the smallest member of the group and had no idea what anyone was on about. I could hardly even see them as the rain got heavier and the ground grew softer underfoot.
All my new teammates said hello and kindly welcomed me to Westcliff RFC. I quickly burbled that I’d never played before – something they were probably guessing judging by my passing skills. Dave called time on the passing and because of the rain and lack of numbers, suggested a quick game of touch before trying out a few ‘ruck drills’ – one to research online later with a bit of help from Cortana.
A game of touch rugby, great! I may still keep my nose and be able to walk to the car then. My first touch of a rugby ball was meet by two long arms, a head, neck and quickly followed up by the rest of his 16-odd stone heft as I slammed into the wet mud skidding about ten metres before finally ending up just over the try line without the ball. Ouch.
I slowly get back up as Dave bellowed, “It’s touch rugby, yeah Jack!” Apparently he’d never heard. I later found out it was his first week’s training. It definitely wasn’t his first time playing.
Easy mistake to make, I guess!
I couldn’t care less to be honest. I wasn’t happy. Everyone else had heard it was touch and my back was still pounding. The next time he gets the ball I’m going to give him what he just gave me. No holding back. It didn’t take long. I was on my toes, head down, steaming towards him with gritted teeth on a revenge mission. Whallop! I bounced backwards and back into the mud. My pride buried. I was being given a rugby reality check.
Later on we ran through some moves that went straight over my head. My teammates were really helpful, pointing where I should be, encouraging me when I did something good – like actually catching a ball. They were tiny flashes of light in a dark tunnel I appreciated.
After training Dave and the boys invited me to the club bar for beer, which I thought I’d deserved. Soaked through and covered in mud, I shuffled onto a barstool taking it all in.
Lucas, the club’s Vice Captain and backs coach told me he saw me as a wing and described what that entailed. Exhausted, and barely able to take it in, I made my excuses and got home for a hot bath!
On the drive home, my first impression was that I had a huge amount of respect for anyone who played the game at any level. It’s a tough old sport!
Before bed I did a bit of research using Cortana about famous wings, like David Campese, Bryan Habana and Jonah Lomu. Then came the big question. Are there any small wings in rugby? Bingo. Apparently Shane Williams was 5ft 7in, my size and pretty special – which made me feel a lot better.
I updated a post on Facebook to shout about my newfound sporting escapades before dropping off. I slept heavily.
*Follow Kevin next week on his rugby journey from training to playing his first game! #therugbybeginner