The pre-game nerves, that usually wake me before my alarm on Saturday game days, started early.
It was Wednesday. That familiar fluttering feeling began in the shower after training. It came to work with me on Thursday, and kept me company on Friday. It came to bed with me, and excitedly shook me awake on Saturday morning. It wasn’t fear. It was excitement, enthusiasm, eagerness. A mixture of anticipation and adrenaline. This was going to be a hard game.
Having faced Manchester before, they play hard and fast and fierce. I felt ready. Joining the team in the changing rooms, it was clear to see we all felt ready. We were focused; we were content. Waiting in that calm space between the warm up and the game, we were prepared. Walking out onto the main pitch at Brantingham Park, felt different, and not only because the people in the stands had come to watch us play.
All of us have since commented, but there was something between us in this match: sense of cohesion that had been growing, but felt at last as though it had found root and started to thrive.
Though I wish I could, I am unable to relay everything that happened in the game. In my mind it was like two wolf packs competing, if those wolves moved, at times, with the grace and style of ballet dancers and at other times the raw brutality of stampeding sumo wrestlers. I will however describe with pride the moments I can see vividly still. Back of the match went to Ben, who not only achieved some beautiful ball handling and runs but proved it’s not only the forwards that can tackle; unafraid to sacrifice his back in the process.
Liam, who made off the with the ball down the wing, outrunning Spartans in a mini marathon to the try line. Nath, consistently taking the ball and the battle into the Spartans half. Joe, an agile winger, plugging a hole in the scrum when needed. Sam, another back who stepped up to second row when duty called, as well as fending off a couple of Spartans with some terrific tackling.
Forward of the Match went to Steven, another man willing to put his body on the line for his team and his sport. So many excellent runs and at such pace it’s no wonder his ankle couldn’t keep up.
With no subs the forwards were hard pushed, but consistently defended and attacked with passion and potency. The tackles they took and made were many and merciless.
Ian’s true sportsmanship, fighting hard and scoring two tries, but also modestly making sure he acknowledged his team mates efforts that made it possible.
Man of the match sponsored by Furley & Co went to Ash who made many a run, gained much ground, and usually with a couple of Spartans on each leg.
From the sheer joy on our faces at the end of the game, I know there are things I will have missed. Whether it’s the kickers going without water to try and get a conversion, the coach that sprints the water over to us, the captain and vice that had words of encouragement at every step of the way, or just each player that pats you on the back after you’ve done something, anything, for your team. Thank you.
The Spartans won. They deserve that credit, but they didn’t find the win easy by any means. And they shall find it even harder in the future. I realised why I played rugby on Saturday, and it was in the wearied, muddied, bruised and battered faces of my teammates in that end of game huddle. Every player with his arms around his brothers and a grin on his face. It didn’t feel like losing at all.