Chapter 29: Rugby

My two older brothers had been pretty good at rugby. The arrival of another Goodman on the scene possibly meant that certain coaches buzzed with anticipation. But the reality was that rugby had never before crossed my path. At Springhill, Dad sometimes listened to something on the wireless and told us to keep quiet or go outside. That was rugby.

Twice, Mr Allen at Springhill School had taken us to play rugby at Onga Onga, but it was not something that registered as important. At Paraparaumu, I guess some played. I have no memory of it - except for Sister Mary of Grace in full habit and rugby boots refereeing a match.

And so at Silverstream the weigh-in started. Team grades were arranged according to weight and not according to age. It seemed really important to get into the right weight grade, so some starved themselves while others hid shot-puts down their trousers. I was in the Third Grade. The trialists for 3A were posted. I was in the trial for the top Third Grade team!

The summer was still hot, the ground was hard, the grass was brown and dry. I remember diving in a tackle at someone, for I saw that's what you did, and grazing the elbow of my right arm. The scar's still there. At half time both sides changed direction. I suppose you knew that. I didn't. It was all a great puzzle to me as to what you were meant to do.

The trials for 3B were posted. My name was there! Then the trials for 3C. Then 3D. Then 3E. Then 3F. There were no trials for 3G because you couldn't sink any lower. 3G collected the useless, the effeminate and the paralyzed. We would practise four times a week, with a game on Saturday. Boys could become men in a single season.

Rugby was compulsory. We were a rugby school. It wasn't that I hated it; it was just that I didn't know what it was. I asked our coach.

"What are the rules?" I asked, trying desperately to make the rehearsal intelligible.

"Rules?" he sneered. "Rules are for breaking". I knew that, it's just that I didn't know what to break.

"Just get out there and play your guts out". So sometimes I played lock and sometimes I played winger. And sometimes I played both positions at the same time. Week after week, we lost 80-0, at a time when a try was worth only three points.

One week we lost 86-3. We were ecstatic. They were our three and only points for the season. We were short a player, so someone from the opposition made up the numbers and scored us a try. It was heaven sent.

The following year I was in 3E, still the bottom team. I was beginning to despise this sport, and prayed for rain and cancellations. In the fifth form it was 2D, the bottom Second Grade team, and again in the sixth form. If only they'd thought to show me how to play. By the fifth form I knew what a "knock-on" was, but it took many more years to find out what "off-side" meant. Well you may scoff. But in those days knowledge of rugby was something babies were born with, and to ask was to admit to some gross genetic deformity.

Now I was quite fit, for I'd go for runs around Pinehaven and the Blue Mountains, and in the seventh form I devised a plan. I could be an assistant coach with someone and take the team for fitness runs. I suggested this cautiously to Father McDonald, the Sports Master.

"Coach?" laughed Father McDonald. "You wouldn't know one end of a whistle from another".

"Then if I don't know, how am I expected to play?" I replied. But with that the interview was over, and I prepared for First Grade trials. I asked my father to visit school and request a dispensation. He got a "No", and I suspect got into an argument. After that my name was pits. Father Blake took pity on me, and for the season of my final year, I line-umpired for the Second XV instead.

Now some won't like this next bit, and some won't remember it the way I do. But this is my story. They can tell their own.

The First XV were gods. They had their own special Mass on a Saturday in a side chapel because God loved them more. Sometimes they sat at a special table at the top of the dining room and had steak and eggs and bacon, while we chewed dry red saveloys and mashed potatoes. Samoan maids in white pinnies waited at their table, and Matron stood with a wet dishcloth to slap the face of the maids should they do wrong.

After a game, on the Saturday night, the First XV would go into hiding, least they be mauled by adulating adolescents. The Boarders would spontaneously assemble in the quadrangle, and chant


Word spread that someone had seen the half-back in the car park, and the crowd would rush to look. Then back to the quadrangle


until a slightly, and sometimes more, inebriated coach would burst in and give a "run down" on the match.


Three cheers for the First XV.

I used to go and hide in the toilet.

It's not that I wasn't pleased. It's just that I was scared.

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