Is there a tougher game I ask myself? Is there a game where such physical and mental toughness are required?
I started playing in my early twenties after being “spotted” at University as someone who could fill a rugby jersey. I’d never played before then, but I had watched international matches on the tele and Dad from the sidelines. I remember my first game for Leicester University, when I was in the final year of my Chemistry degree. I was so excited and proud to be given a numbered rugby jersey to wear in University colours. I didn’t really know what the number 1 on the back meant I had to do. It was a kind of learn-as-you-go match, with some helpful teammates, a coaching referee, advice from the sidelines and an opposition who punished me when I got it wrong.
I was additcted after the first game. I was totally unfit and could barely get on my bike for days, but I was addicted. Addicted to the commitment that others gave to me and was expected of me in return. Addicited to the team spirit, the rugby community and post-match antics. Addicted to the banta, the crudeness, the say-it-as-it-is attitude. No bitching, no girliness, just tough, feisty strong girls. Physically and mentally strong and tough. Yet caring too, I remember a number of late-night A&E stints, awaiting X-rays and results for team mates after hard knocks.
The friendships I have made in rugby circles outlive so many others. Whether it’s because we regress to a semi-drunken juvenile state, or whether it’s because when you have pushed yourself, worked, sweated and so hard for each other, it glues you together. When you get knocked down, you have to get up again, and take steps forward, stronger than before, ready for another hit, more physicality, even though you are drained, muscles tiring, lungs burning, body aching. That’s when you have to find something else inside you, something from deep inside that makes you want to power on, in rain, snow, sleet, wind, mud, and sometimes dog poo. Sometimes twenty points down, sometimes more, playing against the league favourites in a part-strength team. The odds sometimes loaded against us, but a good performance and self belief is always needed, and the hope that some luck will come our way. Believe in yourself, your team mates, and give it everything you have got. Hit low and hard, drive forward, support, ruck-ruck-ruck, stay on your feet, keep thinking straight and focus on what’s ahead, the game is as much mental as it is physical.
The friends I’ve made and have kept are such a spectrum of characters, abilities and attitudes. The one thing we have in common, rugby. Rugby friends appreciate good scars, total fatigue and the smell of deep heat. They are used to vomit and stinky loos. They have that “get to it” attitude, “no shirking”, “get on the front foot” and “power through”. The match, the tournament won’t be won by an individual, it’ll come from the team, the squad, the management, the support and community. There’ll be back-slapping, joking and poking, piss-taking and risk-taking continually.
Only a rugby friend would push me to have a brain scan I needed, prior to the correct diagnosis for the severe persistent headaches, nausea and vomiting I had been having. Only a rugby friend could say to her friend in the post-operative surgical ward, just after surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumour, “the lengths you go to, to prove that props have brains”. Only a rugby friend could say “you may have a brain tumour but there’s no way you’ll get me wearing a wet-suit and doing a fundraising triathlon. I’ll be at the end to support you, with a beer, fag and dram.” Only a rugby brother could say “it’s lucky you’re a rugby player with a tumour the size of a golf ball, not a golfer, with a tumour the size of a rugby ball”. Only a rugby friend would say “call me, anytime, day or night, and I’ll be there if you need me.” Only a rugby friend would continue to take the piss out of my unkempt (hairy) legs when my hair on my head was falling out due to the radiotherapy. Only a rugby friend would get a medicinal half-pint of Guinness at the pub for me straight after being discharged, 5 days after brain surgery. Only a rugby friend would say to her front-row teammate that “shit happens” when she’d just lost her husband to thyroid cancer.
I raise my hats, dozens of them, and a medicinal half pint of Guinness to Rugby Friends worldwide.
How rugby gets me through
Vicky Galbraith March 2011