No Hanging Up The Boots
By Michael Bolan of the Moscow Dragons
Talk about a shock. I mean, there we were, just finishing up a training session on a Saturday afternoon, and the coach proposes a quick game of touch. The only problem was numbers - including the coach, we had 18. On a small court (the ground was unplayable), this was way too many people. “What about three teams?” suggested one of the bright sparks. So the guys duly filed off: under 30s, 30 - 35, and over 35s. It's strange how lonely you feel when you realise that only two out of 18 are under 30. Looking at Jonny Wilkinson and the like, where were all our young guys?
Sure, you can say that Moscow is a senior posting in the region for most multinationals, but two under 30s? And then compound that with the fact that Bath called Victor Ubogu back from retirement to play (then 36) and Saracens dragged Jeff Probyn (then 44) kicking and screaming from his nice comfortable grave to join their squad for the English premiership a few years back, and you have a situation where you've got to wonder - how and why do the guys continue to play? The front row seems to be the epicentre of the phenomenon, but then again, who knows exactly what goes on in the dark depths of the scrum? I'm sure that only front-rowers do, and they ain't telling! Suffice to say that in the last several competitions I've played in - the oldest people in the tournaments have been short fat gentlemen with cauliflower ears and broken noses.
Many people might find it insulting. Malvolio said in Twelfth Night, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them!" (I am willing to bet that Malvolio was a fly-half. At least, that's a pompous fly-half type of thing to say!) This certainly does not apply to the front row. Great props are born - they do not become great, they are not made! So the fat old men, who ran like gazelles in the back row of their youth, lumbered along as a solid second row in their prime and want to hide in the front row in the twilight of their career, can just piss off! The front row is ours - and we will hurt you.
So where does that leave the more senior players? I was flicking through a brightly-pictured rugby book when at home recently and was enthralled at the development predictions for European rugby. Written in the 80s, at a time when it seemed that Romania and not Italy would become the Sixth Nation, the book focussed on rugby in Europe. Living, as I do, in Russia, I obviously turned to the section covering the USSR. Imagine my surprise when I looked at a picture of the Soviet scrumhalf spinning the ball out the back line and realised that he was our scrum half!
Yes. Our scrum-half. That is, the scrum-half for the Moscow Dragons, the fat balding expat side in Moscow. Bearer of the title “Master of Sport” (kind of a sporting version of the Order of Lenin), Valery Proshin still plays regularly. I suppose at 51, he deserves some credit for still being on his feet, let alone playing. It seems that not only the front row can drag themselves through the ages, ball in hand, without hanging up their boots.
So I’ve made myself a bargain. No hanging up the boots. Not yet. And when I do, I’ll bring them right back down again and arm myself with a coach’s whistle. (I had thought of refereeing, but than I regained my sanity). I’m not sure I have the skills to become a good coach, but at least it would be a new audience for my vast collection of fascinating rugby stories…..