March 13, 2000

Fellow Ruggers,

Well, for the first time in the history of these semi-mindless rants, we are publishing a weekly special in less than a weekís time! It either means that I have something to say, or we need to make more money - you be the judge.

Another first - I have nothing bad to say this week. I have nobody to anger and I wonít be making any trouble. What I have this week is a reminder. It seems to me that on all levels of this great game, we forget why we play. Whether youíre an administrator, or a player, the day-to-day grind tends to wear a rugby player down. It doesnít matter if youíre a Division I Super-leaguer, or a Division III Super-league beer drinker, at some point, the majority of people involved in rugby ask themselves why theyíre doing it. Well, this week I have the unique pleasure of reminding you why we do it.

Last weekend, the team I play for - the Arlington Mavericks - a Division II team from North Texas), was fortunate enough to play in our first playoff game in over 6 years. The team we were playing with, Shreveport RFC, hadnít been in the playoffs in 14 years. Needless to say, emotions were high before either team stepped on the pitch.

Unfortunately, during Thursdayís training session, our starting Scrum Half went down with a sprained knee. The kicking duties were then passed down to a lowly hooker (yours truly of course!) Whether Iím talking to a rugby enthusiast, or a US Eagle, you can understand what emotions were coursing through each player before the kick-off.

With the kick-off, the much larger Shreveport pack proceeded to pick and go off the base of every ruck. After about the third phase, their fly-half would send a deep kick aiming at the coffin corner. With a very strong wind at their back, their strategy was very effective- going up 12-5 in the first half.

Yes, I did miss my first conversion (if weíre keeping track). It was about two feet off the sideline into the wind, and it hit the upright. Our forward pack offensively, in the first half, started off a little sluggishly, but with our first try late in the first half, the momentum shifted 180 degrees.

I, incidentally, was playing prop in the first half because our coach wanted to try to have a light, mobile pack. Even with the smaller pack, in the set pieces, we were able to drive their pack. However, in loose play, their twin towers were dominating the rucks.

Traditionally, the Arlington Mavericks have been known for the ability of their backs. In the past, our sevens teams have beaten every team - Division I or other - in the state of Texas. Unfortunately, it was just not their day. The Shreveport fly-half continuously pounded our wing and full-back. A couple of handling errors resulted in two trys.

For Arlington, the second half was a whole different game. We had the win and the momentum, and I believe we were more fit. With an early penalty kick, we were within five points. If youíre keeping score, I made one, and missed one. Our fly-half also missed a penalty kick in the first half that I didnít take because I was still seeing stars from a previous hit.

To speed this up a bit, we ended up tying the score 18-18 with very little time left. With the conversion, we would have taken the lead, but by this point, I had made one penalty and missed two conversions (oh, Iím sorry, I forgot to tell you about that other conversion I missed).

With my confidence shaken, one of our wings asked me if he could take the conversion, and I grudgingly agreed. Unfortunately, he didnít fare any better. With the score tied, in injury time, another deep kick from their fly-half, another handling error by our backs, they score and win the game.

By this point, Iím sure that at least half of the people reading this soliloquy are feeling some sort of emotional stir (at least I hope so). But the real emotion came from just playing the game. All 30 players wanted to win. I would say 28 of those players gave every bit of energy they had for every minute of the game (I would say 30, but it is division II after all). In most games, the outcome may not be determined, but can be felt.

Let me explain. There are days that you know youíre going to beat a team - whether the score is close, or youíre blowing them out. Sometimes the same can be said when youíre going to lose. There are those rare instances where you just have no idea whatís going to happen. Saturday was one of those days. You can get the same high from other sports, but there are not many other sports where you have to invest so much of yourself, emotionally, physically, etcÖ In this case, I invested and I lost, but I still feel like I won. My hatís off to the victors.

On a side note, I would like to comment on the referee. Now before you sharpen your poison swords, I would like to tell you what a good job he did. If you noticed, I didnít mention the referee once the whole time I was referring to the game. For the most part, he was a non-factor, just as it should be. Privately, Iíve been critical of this referee in the past, thinking that he tried to control the game a little too much. I can tell you honestly, that this is one of the best games Iíve seen him ref.

Well, thatís it. Thatís the reminder of why we play this game.

Pat Laczkowski
Hooker Rugby Supply