Going into The Belly of the Beast: my experience with Rugby training
At the end of last term, as you probably know, I wrote an article called ‘Why Rugby Is Pointless’ and as you can imagine, there was a pretty strong backlash. With the reaction came the offer to attend a UKC rugby training session, and on 25th January, I did just that.
From the moment I accepted the invitation, I received quizzical looks from friends and assurances that I was crazy. ‘Why would you do that?’ they said, ‘you’re going to be destroyed’ came up a fair bit as well. With my best brave face, I informed them that it would be fine and that even if that did happen it would merely prove me right. I was, of course, apprehensive of what was to follow, and shared many of the same concerns that they did, and half expected to be writing this article from a hospital bed. I was only half joking when I quipped that I had already booked an appointment with a doctor for the end of the session. So, not quite sure what was lying ahead of me, I left my halls and made my way into the night.
Instantly, I could tell that my remarks about the size of your average rugby player were absolutely correct. Even in the warm-up I was asked to try and shake off a prop forward who was lying on top of me. Fortunately, he saw the funny side of the very different weight classes we belonged to and took pity on me, although I was tossed asunder when he had to do the same to me.
However, not long into training I was spared the quadruple leg breaks that I had been expecting, when the coach asked the group who would be doing contact and who would be doing non-contact. I turned to Ben Lovell-Smith, who had written the response article to me and organized my presence, and asked if it was actually a choice. His shrug was enough for me to follow the rest of the inexperienced players to the far side of the 3GX. So, anyone who is reading this to get the juicy details of my injuries can read something else instead.
I imagine the purpose of the rugby team of having me down (apart from giving me physical repercussions for my opinions) was to prove me wrong, so let’s see how they did. My more general points about the international appeal are somewhat null and void for this, but I don’t remember seeing an international student. From the perspective of my tactical arguments, a whiteboard was nowhere to be seen and the most tactical advice I heard all night was a coach telling my small group that we scored more tries when we passed more times. I think he is something of a Jonathan Wilson in the rugby world and has a book coming out about his theories later this year. I have already pre-ordered.
As for it being a sport for the physically gifted, I probably wasn’t the shortest person to be taking part, but I was the slenderest by a reasonable margin. A particular team of players that I faced at touch rugby immediately spring to mind as exactly the sort of people I expect to be playing rugby. However, I will concede on a particular stance, I now understand why they enjoy the physical aspect of the game. The least I had expected to get out of the evening was a decent run around for fitness purposes, but due to the pedestrian nature of rugby and how it is played, the tacking and violence is just about the only thing actually going on. I often found myself trying to make out what was going on in the Arsenal vs Manchester United game that was being shown in the top floor of the pavilion, unfortunately the fifty or so yards between me and it made things difficult to make out. But put it this way, I know which of the two activities I would have preferred to have been doing on a surprisingly mild Friday evening.
I knew going in that my chances of being proved right were about as slim as a couple of the people I was sharing the artificial turf with that evening. But my suspicions going unchanged once more does have its own allure and made the whole experience worthwhile. As a final hurrah for my rugby career, which had been on a 5-year hiatus, it was quite a pleasant one. I would like to thank both the staff and players for putting up with my sub-par catching skills for the evening and restraining yourselves from placing me into severe discomfort.