Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Demolition of Diss

"I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious." - Vince Lombardi.

And so the script was written. Tring needing a win to guarantee National 3 Rugby next year. Tring desperate to avenge a disheartening away loss earlier in the season under two inches of snow. The sun shining bright on the warmest day of the year. Our backs licking their predatory lips at the prospect of playing on a hard pitch with a dry ball. The stage was set.

Back in November Diss punished us at scrum time but our set pieces are enjoying something of a renaissance, given further inspiration from the James Buckland session last Tuesday. Rather than looking for ways to get the ball in and out as quickly as possible, the front five were eagerly anticipating the first scrum to test their new knowledge. We knew that if we could wrestle the scrum dominance from them then they would crack.

As the curtain raised to tumultuous applause from the expectant and well lubricated audience, we walked the boards with a commanding presence - is this extended ‘theatre’ metaphor doing anything for you? No? Ok.

The formula was simple. Keep hold of the ball and go wide when the opportunity calls for it - don’t push it straight away before we’re ready, don’t play 7s just because the sun is out, and keep our shape, structure and discipline. And it didn’t take long for us to reap the rewards.

We scored four first half tries, all coming from simple, basic Rugby executed well. The first coming from a breakdown near the Diss 10m line. We sucked there forwards in, quick hands from the backs and Liam Chennells crossed over in the corner. Simple Rugby.

The scrum proved solid all day and provided the stable base for the second try. A pop from me to Sam Clapham, quick hands from the backs and Liam Chennells crossed over in the corner. Simple Rugby…and a sense of deja vous!

The Front Row who were so impressive against Diss at the weekend
The third try was a mirror image of the first for John Preston on the other side of the pitch. The fourth…well…its quite hard to keep track of it all and play at the same time!

The second half continued much in the same vein. We took on a ruthless edge and turned the screw further. As the game began to open up, we started to relax and enjoy ourselves, producing some flowing moves and sparkling tries. A special mention should go to Sam ‘Clapriani’ for his magnificent, Holgate-esque solo chip and chase try…even though I was on his inside shoulder so he could have just passed it! And I suppose I should mention Liam Chennells’ five tries , three conversions and a penalty…but we don’t want to give him a big head!

Once we reached the bonus point, the next important milestone was the defence. We continued to work hard for the whole game, despite a late charge from the visitors, desperate for a consolation score. But through solid scrummaging, excellent scrambling and hard-nosed tackles around the breakdown, we held them out. 51-0 the final score at the whistle - brutal.

You have to say, Diss played their part in their own downfall. They were dogged and physical, their strong inside centre Fraser Hall proved a handful, but the writing is on the wall when a team forgets their kit at this level! I sympathise with them as it is a long way to come to get put to the sword but our professional and merciless performance was encouraging.

The win not only secures our position in the league next year but also gives us a springboard to jump further up the table. We are now level on points with Bishops Stortford and within touching distance of Civil Service and Staines. Winning the last two games would show just how far this club has come in the last few years.

Another interesting result from the weekend was Barnes comfortably beating Hertford and leapfrogging them to the top spot. This means will Hertford will be going all out until the end of the season to win the league, making the last game at Fortress Cow Lane a real humdinger!!

On a personal level, although it was an excellent team performance, I felt slightly off the pace again. The proof in the pudding will be at the Tuesday night video session but I don’t think I made too many actual mistakes but I didn’t make the kind of impact I was hoping for. It has been a real ambition of mine to play county rugby at Men’s level but the more disappointing performances I put in, the less chance I have of standing out. I have two games left to prove to myself - if no-one else - I am the player I know I can be.

What did you think of the game? Do I miss out anything important? Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts...

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Orient Rugby Express

This weekend sees the IRB Sevens World Series light up the Orient with its flagship event in Hong Kong. The high profile tournament has been an important fixture in the international sports calendar for a number of years now but has recently sparked something of a Rugby explosion in South East Asia.

When we think of where the next frontiers for Rugby expansion would be, the obvious choice would be South America. Argentina’s impressive showing at the last World Cup shows there is already an appetite there. But something very interesting is happening in Asia which has been inspired by the success of the shortened version of the Game.

The growth and popularity of Sevens has been meteoric over the past five years especially. It is no longer a small side show for show offs and posers. It is now a well established, well supported commercial success commanding huge television audiences and packed stadiums. And the flames have been fuelled by Sevens’ readmission into the Olympic programme for Rio 2016. Olympic inclusion opens a number of previously locked doors for Rugby and, with leading sponsors with the financial muscle of HSBC, the expansion is set to continue.

HSBC has signed several lucrative deals to raise Rugby’s profile in South East Asia. In October last year, the bank signed a five year deal to be the lead sponsor of the IRB’s Sevens World Series. Speaking at Rugby Expo in November, HSBC’s Group Head of Sponsorship Giles Morgan paid homage to Rugby’s ‘spirit and traditional values’ and said the bank was committed to helping the IRB grow the Game on a global scale.

The immediate effects are already evident. The Sevens World Series has signed television distribution deals in America, India, Russia, Italy, Israel and the Pan-Asian network Star. Tournaments and highlights can now be seen in 140 countries and is expected to reach 400 million homes.

Sevens is now a staple part of several multi-sport events. I have mentioned the Olympics, it is also a flagship event at the Commonwealth Games, was included in the CACSO Games last year, and will be in the Pan-American Games later in the year. 30,000 enthralled fans watched Japan claim the Asian Games Sevens gold medal last year as well.

The Hong Kong Sevens is taking place as I write this. It always looks like such an incredible tournament and one I would love to go to one day. Two people who are ‘living the dream’ are Sebastian Perkins and James Rodwell.

Baz and Rodders will be taking to the field at this weekend's Hong Kong Sevens
Baz was named this week in the Hong Kong’s squad - he’s come along way from playing in the Billericay Sevens with the RBS Royals! Rodders is a cornerstone of the England team and was the year below me at school. Both of them are great guys so I wish them both good luck for this weekend.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Run In

So…just three games left of the season and I’m really regretting not starting this blog earlier! The now legendary Stortford result has given us a much needed boost, however, due to the unpredictable nature of this league, we are not quite safe yet.

Ideally, we need to win our last three games, two at least, not only avoid relegation but to push on up the table. The league has been surprisingly even this year, throwing up some genuinely surprising results. This means that 10 points currently separates five teams. On a positive note, if we have an unbeaten run in then we could leap frog a number of teams and finish upper mid table. But, on the flipside of that, if we fall foul of any potential banana skins then we could slip down into the bottom three which would be a disaster. It all adds to the ongoing drama and makes for an exciting run in.
The business end of the season looks like this:

26.03 - Diss at home
09.04 - North Walsham away
16.04 - Hertford at home
We are hoping to get our revenge on Diss this Saturday after a poor performance in the snow in November. Despite their poor league showing this year, Diss will have that in-built confidence when playing an already vanquished enemy. It is up to us to produce a professional and clinical performance in front of the hopefully large home crowd.

Then comes North Walsham. Away. Quite simply a huge game. I’ll be brutally honest…it’s not a particularly nice place to go. A three and half hour bus ride isn’t the best way to spend a Saturday morning, made worse by David Shotton’s horrific chat! The ground itself is ok but is guaranteed to be either a mud bath or a rock hard dust bowl.

Scrum-half Sam Clapham against North Walsham earlier in the year
North Walsham play a fairly ugly and scrappy form of Rugby - much like us I suppose - so this fixture is never one for the purists. They are a tough and physical side who have an unconquerable resilience. In three years playing in this league, I have yet to beat the East Anglians - I was injured when Tring did win - But we have heartbreakingly thrown away leads in the last minute a number of times now and we are determined to put this right come April.

Then the final game of the season at home to league leaders Hertford. We have played this fixture for the last two years and against the odds, we scraped a win both times. Hertford tend to treat this game as a 'dead rubber’ without anything to play for. However, as they are in a close run battle for the top spot with Barnes, this year will be very different. We know what to expect from our Hertfordshire rivals and as it’s the last game of the season, will put everything into it…even if we have to be carried off the pitch - the prospect of Saturdays at B&Q rearing its ugly head.

So how are preparations going for the big run in? We had a welcome and well deserved break last weekend. After the heroics of the last game, a few of us were struggling. I haven’t felt that sore and stiff after a match for a long time and I was still feeling the affects on Tuesday - by the time I had trotted up to the field after seeing the physio, the session was over!

A weekend off during the season is a strange feeling. It is a flash forward to the Summer with seemingly endless afternoons being dragged round shops, switching into autopilot - ‘Yes it looks lovely, dear’, ‘I agree, those curtains would suit the colour scheme’, ‘Dried flowers in a pot is exactly what our bedroom is missing’ - sparing a knowing look to other husbands and boyfriends suffering the same fate!

I exaggerate of course. Last Saturday was actually a very enjoyable day (she might be reading this!) and it is certainly a refreshing change waking up on a Sunday without feeling like you’ve been in a car crash. But I have signed myself up for as many 7s tournaments as possible this Summer just in case!

Yesterday, we had a training session with Aylesbury which gave us a chance to have full opposition. We had some intense training on scrum technique from London Irish hooker James Buckland which was a real eye-opener. Diss’ main strength is their scrum so hopefully the front row will be able to put some of this session into practise on Saturday.

The mood in the team is one of confident expectation. There is usually an ‘end of term’ feel to the last couple of games in a season but not so this year. With our survival/mid table finish very much in our own hands, we are all working harder than ever in training to maintain this momentum. There are still plenty of dangers and difficulties in the run in but we’ve come too far to throw it away now…surely?!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Make or Break: Away at Bishops Stortford

The morning of a game is a surreal sort of limbo. There’s no time to do any meaningful tasks on a Saturday morning - maybe polish the boots, check all kit is dry, pack the bag - but certainly nothing that requires any real concentration.

The mind constantly drifts to game situations. What I’d do if I break the line, where I need to hit in a tackle to gain the initiative, what angle to run from the base of a scrum. This can also be the time when the nerves start to take hold. I try to keep the mind occupied and entertained to keep the nervous energy in check - Series four box set of Dexter currently does the trick.
The Stortford home game from earlier in the season
The bus trip to the game is always an odd experience as well. The boys try to maintain an air of aloof confidence but the impending match is the elephant in the room, in the back of everyone’s minds. This underlying tension was definitely heightened last week (12 March) as we headed to Bishops Stortford for a season defining Hertfordshire derby. There seemed to be more nervous atmosphere this time because there was genuine belief that we could take away the four points. I have never beaten Stortford at any age group but, with a few key injuries, they were certainly vulnerable.

It was a perfect day for Rugby, clear skies, a mild temperature and a fantastic pitch which would suit our dynamic backs. A quiet but clinical warm up and inspiring pep talk from Jon Lamden meant we were prepared. It is a couple of hundred metres to the pitch from the changing rooms and it was a huge encouragement to see a large number of travelling Tring supporters out in force to cheer us on.

With the added impetus of league survival, I was feeling particularly nervous before the game. There is an overwhelming sense of excitement, expectation and fear of failure which numbs everything else accept a pounding heart. And I wasn’t the only one suffering, the usually reliable Tim Loughnan spilt the kick off just inside our 22. Our set pieces have become something of a focal point during our resurgence and we were able to counter the early pressure and clear our lines.

The great thing was that there was no panic from this inauspicious start. It did not dent our belief at all and, despite the early Stortford pressure, we were able to break out of our territory, put together several phases and quick hands through the backs allowed Loughnan to clear his name, touching down under the posts.

However, we never like to make things easy for ourselves…or our supporters! A series of needless penalties not only let the home side back into the game but gave them a commanding lead. The dangerous Full-back Rea and stand in Fly-Half Cattell combined well and registered two tries and two penalties to make the score 20-7.

Again, though, there was no sense of panic. No one’s head dropped. We had played some excellent Rugby already and knew if we stuck to our gameplan we would be alright. And sure enough a break down the right wing meant Centre Nathan Lamden crossed over for the next score. Loughnan’s roller-caster day continued as he broke through again on the left wing and crashed over the line, making the score 21-20 to Tring at the stroke of half-time.

After the break, Stortford’s influential captain Mark McCraith, my opposite number, was yellow carded for a late tackle. The momentum had firmly shifted in our favour and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind as to the result. Smart interplay lead to a Tom Newton try to further extend the lead.

Then the stage was set…step up Liam ‘Super Boot’ Chennells. We continued to play our simple gameplan, building patient phases. The home side started to show their frustration and gave away a series of penalties which Liam duly slotted. Stortford did manage a late rally and scored a well worked consolation try but Liam‘s four penalties and four conversions had put us out of sight. A resounding 40-27 win and an historic day for Tring. The first ever win at 1st XV level over our Hertfordshire rivals. And, more importantly from an immediate point of view, a five point win (including a bonus point for scoring four tries) which puts a little more daylight between us and the bottom three.

It was great to see the alacados enjoying themselves, especially after the disappointment of the North Walsham home game. We have a fantastic level of support at Tring so its nice to dedicate a win to them every now and then.

On a personal level, it wasn’t a vintage performance. I didn’t get too many chances to attack with ball in hand but just tried to do the basics well - make my tackles, get to the breakdown quickly, secure our ball, support where possible - and feel I did that. I don’t think I disgraced myself against the current county Number 8 but recognise I need to make more impact in important matches and simply doing the basics sometimes isn’t enough.

It was a superb, mature and commanding team performance though. Man of the match was shared by Liam Chennells and Nathan Lamden and the bus rocked all the way home…but that’s a different story!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

To train or not to train...

Just to be clear, this isn’t a moan and whinge about how training is too hard/tiring/physical. Far from it. I genuinely look forward to training as a release from the static nature of office work. No, the issue I have is timings and logistics.

At the start of the season, I started a new job in Covent Garden. I have been living with my parents in Berkhamsted as my wife and I save up a house deposit, meaning I am now one of the commting hoardes squeezing onto packed trains in the mornings. I have officially entered the Rat Race!

The company I work for, Seven46, is a sports based company so they are very understanding and keen for me to continue playing Rugby - despite the frequent black eyed Monday mornings. However, even when I leave in good time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have to tear through the streets on my Boris Bike like a man possessed and then sprint through Euston concourse to shoe-horn myself onto the 6:40. An excellent warm up if nothing else.

The 'Boris Bikes' - keep an eye out on Tuesdays and Thursdays as I'm usually in a rush!

Once the train pulls in at Berkhamsted (usually around 7:15-7:20), I’m back on my other bike which I leave chained at Berkhamsted station. It is a 10 minute uphill dash back to my parents, quick change, jump in the car and finally get on the field for a quick stretch at 7:45. By this time, I am already pretty drained, hungry and normally dieing of thirst as I have forgotten to grab a water bottle.

Training starts at 7:15 so I have already missed all of the fitness and most of the skills drills as well. Now, this may sound like a workout in itself and it is to a degree but it still doesn’t compensate for proper fitness sessions with our conditioning supreme Steve Bumstead.

On a serious note, I feel my performances have not been as consistent as I would like due to my fitness levels. I am probably one of the smaller Number 8s in the league so I need to make sure I am fitter and quicker than my opposition. I think I am quicker than most, especially when breaking from the scrum, but the fitness is a constant battle.

I try to do what I can outside of training. I have a regular running route mapped out but I can only manage about three miles before the boredom rot sets in. Inspired by boxing and a certain music video, I bought a skipping rope as well which I try and use as often as possible.

Unfortunately, the phrase ‘affordable gym’ is totally alien to London culture. Also, by the time I get home when not training at roughly 8pm, I simply can’t be bothered to then go out again to the gym for an hour. Call me a sentimental fool but I would actually like to enjoy my evenings and spend a bit of time with my wife (we were married 1 ½ years ago so I give this crazy notion another year!)!

Much of my free time is currently spent looking at mortgage options, colour schemes, furniture ideas, etc, etc, etc, as we prepare to move into our first home. So the only ‘gym’ exercises I have time for these days are a few body weight routines in the back of Men’s Health. Certainly not ideal considering some of the mutants we come up against.

This year has been something of an eye-opener for me. I have to accept that time is ticking on. I am no longer a fresh faced 21 year old. I have responsibilities and will soon have a mortgage to pay so my work has to start taking more of a priority. My job relies on making good first impressions when meeting people and driving new business - so black eyes, facial scars, limbs in plaster and the like may well be an ice breaker but don’t exactly create the image the company is after!

So I have some big decisions to make this Summer. I need to see what the commute will be like from the new house. I won’t be able to completely stop (I tried that and it didn’t work!) but I will have to make a decision about the how much I can commit. For the time being, though, there are three massive games left for this season to guarantee our highest finish in this league.

Do you have any issues with training or sport/work/life conflicts?

Saturday, 19 March 2011

The Season (2010/11): Part 2

In November and December, the league games froze with weather and we didn’t play again until January. An away trip to Staines isnt exactly how many of us wanted to open the New Year. Staines are competing with Ampthill to be the biggest and ugliest team in the league! We matched them blow for blow in the first half and were within touching distance with 60 minutes gone. However, we just couldnt counter the relentless onslaught of muscled monsters and they ran in a few late tries to flatter the scoreline.

We picked ourselves up and secured two wins in a row, doing the double over Civil Service and Basingstoke. I feel I must mention the fantastic facilities at Basingstoke. The pitch was by far the best I ve ever played on and had a neat little stand, electric scoreboard, the works. We felt like royaltyor at least a real team!

A home loss to high flying Barnes and an extremely disappointing result away at Bracknell meant we were still languishing worryingly close to the relegation zone. And then came the lowest point of the season, and possibly my playing career (injuries not included). A home fixture against fellow strugglers North Walsham was a game we had targeted as a must win on our march to escape the drop. 18-0 up at half time after a commanding performance seemed to signal that we had it in the bag. However, with the foot well and truly off the gas, North Walsham slotted a penalty with the last kick of the game for a 20-18 win.

I have never felt so low after a game of Rugby before. People are quick to belittle me with a patronising its just a game’ comment. But once youve spent every last ounce of energy, poured every last drop of passion, plus youve trained twice a week and know that a couple of hundred people have given up the best part of their weekend to watch you throw away a game to a team everyone knows we should beatwell its frustrating to say the least! There is nothing more emotionally draining than knowing youve given everything and got nothing in return. To know that you snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with a couple of stupid mistakes.

 On a positive note, there is no team better at picking themselves up than Tring. The whole squad faced some home truths that week - no one wanted to ever feel like that again. The training has intensified, a new-found steel in defence forged, a renewed fire and determination ignited in each player. We will need to produce something special to stay up now.

An excellent home win against Havant strengthened our belief but Ampthill would be the big test. Earlier in the season they had put 50 passed us and even though they had lost a few players, they were still riding high I the league. However, the game wasn’t much of a game at all - more of an 80 minute brawl. I have never known a team so focused on fighting that they werent particularly interested in the game. Three players sin-binned and one red card shows how ridiculously and almost comically ill-disciplined they were. We eventually lost the game 14-13, but a last minute try gave us a losing bonus point and considering the score last time around this felt very much like a win. We had withstood a genuine barrage of aggression and taken a point. Not many other teams can say the same this season.

The team could feel a momentum building which we carried into the next home game against Gravesend. Keen to avenge the earlier defeat in the season and knowing they were missing their influential captain, we were able to produce a confident and assued performance to guarantee a 16-10 win. Again, this proved that we can take points from the teams above us. We knew from the away trip that Gravesend base their game around off loads. Once we stepped up our defence and worked hard to cut off down their options, we were able to starve them of possession. The difference this week was that we kept our discipline and stuck to our simple gameplan. Needless to say the Akeman was rocking that evening!

Sevens guru Liam Chennells slots a penalty on his return to Tring

This takes us up to our latest game, another heated Hertfordshire derby against Bishops Stortford last Saturday (12 March). With only four games remaining and the snarling jaws of relegation still looming large, this was a must win game. The only problem being that Tring have never beaten Stortford at senior level…not too much pressure then!

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Season 2010/11: Part 1

I missed the first few games of the new season as I tested out my shoulder in a couple of 2nd team games. Probably just as well to be honest, as it wasn’t a bright start. We had a tough opening run. Losing heavily to Hertford, Dorking and Ampthill - who now make up three of the top four spots in the league. Another heavy defeat at home to Staines and it appeared the writing was on the wall.

But the spirit in camp was positive. We had all accepted that it would be a tough opening and we now had experience in this league to know that it was a long season. A couple of new recruits from Loughborough Uni, including David Shotton, Nathan Lamden and Jimmy ’The Boot’ Fouracre made an immediate impact in a commanding 28-10 win. It also happened to me my first game back in the black and gold. I suppose it would be wrong to claim full responsibility for turning the team’s fortunes around but…;-)

Winning is definitely a habit and once we had broken our duck we put together a string of excellent results, including home wins against Basingstoke, Bracknell and away at Havant. There was an away loss to league favourites Barnes but an encouraging fight back restored some pride and gave us plenty of positives to move on from (oops…couple of clichés in there sorry!)

Next up was a trip away to Gravesend where we faced my old scrum half from Uni John Clement. Although it was certainly good to see him again, the game was a bit of a horror show. We started well but suffered from ‘Arsenal-itis’ of trying to be too elaborate. For all our possession and domination in the first half, we didn’t get enough points on the board and promptly capitulated to a 34-21 loss in the last five minutes.

Another debilitating loss at home to huge local rivals Bishops Stortford meant that heads were starting to drop again.

The crazy state of the pitch at Diss
When we made the long trip up to Diss, our confidence levels were waning. In my eyes, this was the most ridiculous game of the season. It took us three hours to get there only to discover the pitch was under two inches of snow! And to make matters worse…we played the game! The conditions suited their monstrous pack and we lost 20-15 with Diss scoring two push over tries. This was certainly a baptism of fire for our new Kiwi recruits, James Stephenson and Tim Loughnan. It was a disappointing loss but the journey home certainly improved spirits and restored pride. There’s nothing quite like a long boozy bus trip to bring a team together!

A prelude to a season

 t know what to do with it, and others have nonewell none that they let us have anyway! (We are one of the third type in case you hadnt guessed by the slightly bitter tone!). As a result, there tends to be leagues within the league each year.
The problem with National 3 London and South East is that it is the level where money starts to rear its confused head. This means that some teams have a lot of it, some have a bit and don

Last year Jersey and local rivals Old Albanians led the big spenders and were promoted whilst Barnes and Ampthill came down. Jersey had some truly fantastic players and it was sad to see them goif only because we miss out on the mid-season mini tour this year! Barnes had dominated the league two years ago but suffered the same yo-yo affect of many promoted teams at this level. Ampthill came with a formidable reputation and a forward pack seemingly recruited from Lord of the Rings!
 a Christmas present I could have done without.

The Ampthill front row rush to a scrum
 I was a little apprehensive at the start of the season. The trouble with playing for an amateur club at this level is that other paying clubs are constantly trying to swipe our best players and last season was no different. Tim Holgate, our top try scorer for the last two seasons, took the carrot and moved to London Scottish. Inspired more by family reasons than financial, Tim took the step up to National 1 and, I am happy to say, is doing extremely well.

Despite wishing Tim the best of luck, I suspected we might struggle without him. I was also struggling for confidence myself following an injury last season. Unfortunately, I have been cursed with shoulders made of chocolate! I have had any number of dislocations through Rugby but two operations seemed to have put a stop to it. December last year was the first time my right shoulder had dislocated again since the op
 m no spring chicken anymore, not exactly playing for England, so is it really worth the heartache of trying to carry on? If a 67 19 stone Second row runs at me, will I have the confidence to make the tackle? Or will the memories of three nurses and a doctor yanking my shoulder back into joint with no painkillers forever sear itself onto my sub-conscious?!
Another dislocation sparked self-doubt - should I play anymore? I

I thought my Rugby career was over and resigned myself to watching from the sidelines. However, the desire to play soon overtakes any logical thinking. After just a handful of games, I was desperate to get back out onto the field and I started to double my physio and rehab work to be ready for the coming season....

How do you prepare for sport? Have you had any horrible injury stories? Share them here!... 
s hard to write about a season in any sport and avoid the standard clichés…‘emotional rollercoaster…‘a real journey’…‘had its ups and downs’…boring! I will try and avoid these but I warn you it is hard.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Mighty Tring Rangers

For the last four years I have been playing for Tring, a small market town in Hertfordshire. Belying our ‘sleepy backwater’ tag, we find ourselves battling with some genuine big guns in National 3 London and South East.

The club was established in 1964 and is still relatively young. It was not long ago we were languishing in Herts and Middlesex 4. However, Tring has a phenomenal minis and juniors section which runs on Sundays which means there is always a fantastic conveyor belt of talented players coming through. I first started playing at Tring in the Under 12s and enjoyed many years of junior club Rugby.

After school, I went to New Zealand, as I mentioned in the previous post. I played for the Kaierau club and was selected for Wanganui U-20s. As I have said before, this was a fantastic year for me and certainly helped influence how I play the game now.

I captained my University side (University of Liverpool) and also played for four years at Waterloo. The Drummers were in National 1 (now the Championship) at the time so unfortunately my first team appearances were limited to the Lancashire Cup. Nevertheless, it was an excellent four years, working with some truly great players and coaches. The problem I had was that I was playing too much - training four times a week and playing twice for Uni and Waterloo - and it started to take its toll. I suffered a number of relatively serious injuries during these four years which frustratingly set back my development as a player.

So after Uni, with my naïve and possibly far-fetched dreams of playing professionally shattered, I came home to my roots and returned to Tring. When I arrived, we had just been promoted to London and South East 2 with a fine crop of players who the majority had come through the minis and juniors section. We narrowly missed out on promotion that season, losing in the play offers to Thanet Wanderers, but we were not to be denied the season after.

Our first season in what is now National 3 London and South East was certainly an experience. Just when all was looking bleak and people were beginning to accept that we were out of our depth, we put together a stunning string of results including an away win at Jersey and a home win over Hertford - both would have been totally unthinkable at the start of the year. Since avoiding relegation , we have steadily grown in confidence and have started to push further up the table.

Tring's home support enjoy their Saturdays
Big part of our success at this level has been our form at home. Fortress Cow Lane is a formidable, bleak and desolate place for a referee let alone visiting team! Any preconceived ideas of a quaint, mild mannered, countrified club are soon shattered as the bar empties and the loyal Tring supporters find their full voices. Well lubricated with local ales, the home fans are a particularly vocal bunch, their roars of encouragement or vitriolic abuse create something of a bubbling cauldron. It’s not exactly Galatasaray in the mid 1990s but it’s certainly a shock for many visiting teams and refs alike!

However, the most important factor in our humble team’s success is the social aspect. We are an amateur club and play for the fun of the Game rather than the brown envelopes afterwards. We do get incentives - £50 vouchers at the Chairman’s restaurant if we win - but these tend to be exchanged for countless Jaegerbombs at the first opportunity! The great thing about Tring is the team spirit. We are a close nit group of friends brought together by Rugby rather than just a team of individuals. And this definitely transfers onto the pitch. You’re much more likely to go the extra mile, hit that extra tackle, make that extra yard for your mates than a bunch of mercenaries who disappear straight after a match. I’m sure the coach would say we ‘celebrate’ a little too often but without it we’d be half the team…that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

How do you feel about team spirit? Is there still a place for the social side at top level Rugby?

Let me know your thoughts…

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Chasing Eggs

"The whole point of rugby is that it is, first and foremost, a state of mind, a spirit." - Jean-Pierre Rives (1952), French rugby player.

It's hard to know where to begin with my experiences in Rugby. I suppose it is in some way innate: my Grandad was a talented player and played for my school's 1st XV before the Second World War and my Dad played all through his childhood, at Naval College and even for the Navy.

My first experiences of Rugby were in front of the TV on Saturday afternoons, watching the likes of Will CarlingJeremy Guscott and Rob Andrew pull on the red rose at Twickenham. The sheer power of Mick 'The Munch' Skinner, the cool and calm inspiration of Dean Richards and the speed and exhilaration of the Underwood brothers. Anyone/thing that could generate often jaw-dropping outbursts of emotion from my otherwise reserved Dad has got to be worth pursuing!

As with all young boys, I was keen to impress my Dad and couldn't wait to take up the Game but I did not start playing until 12 years old. In all his experience and wisdom, he did not want me to start too early and get sick of the Game. This meant I flirted with other sports, such as Football, Hockey, Swimming, Squash, Fives (Squash with your hands basically). However, I was restricted to Goalkeeper as my tackles were deemed 'too robust'!

Once I was finally unleashed onto the Rugby pitch, it felt like a duck taking to water. It seemed a natural fit for me. I loved the passion, the physicality, the aggression but most of all the camaraderie. I've been lucky to make some fantastic friends through the Game and had some unforgettable experiences, good and bad. Playing in front of a huge crowd at the ANZAC game in New Zealand and being the first team to beat Jersey at home in three years are moments I will never forget. But having three nurses and a doctor trying to pull my dislocated shoulder back into place will also remained etched in my memory.

I have experienced Rugby overseas as well, playing for a year in New Zealand whilst on a GAP year working at Wanganui Collegiate School. The Kiwis have a fascinating attitude to the Game and are a wonderfully inviting and welcoming people. It was certainly an eye opening season for a somewhat naive teenager, still wet behind the ears. I went from well mannered and polite schoolboy rugby to face-tattooed gang members trying their hardest to tear my head off! But the great thing about Rugby is that once the whistle blows, everyone is friends again and what was World War III becomes nothing more than an anecdote in the bar.

There are downsides to Rugby, obviously. I have alluded to the injuries, my own chart of maladies reads like a junior doctor's text book. Broken legs, fingers, ribs, too many dislocations to keep track off - leading to two shoulder reconstruction operations, a dislocated collar bone to name just a few. But, I have to say, whenever I'm sat in a hospital bed in plaster or going through physio, the only thought I have is, "When can I get back out on the pitch"!

However, as the crow's feet deepen and the hairline sneaks backwards, I am starting to be more realistic about my playing ambitions. But if this does turn out to be my last season, it certainly won't be the end of my Rugby career....hence the reason I've started this blog!

Please share your own experiences here and let me know your thoughts on the Game...

The best laid schemes....

"The best-laid schemes o'mice an 'men
Gang aft agley"

So...why open a new Rugby blog with a famous line from Robbie Burns? Well, for a long time now I have intended to start a blog to give share the ups and lows of this beautiful game from a player's perspective.

The plan was to give an errudite, eloquent and witty insight into Rugby at this level. It is just a shame that there are now only four games left of the season!

Better late than never though I suppose. Please leave comments and any feedback...