Found this gem by Justin Marshall on a New Zealand website – pro players of today won’t have a clue what he is talking about…
It was early in the second half that I began to question my wisdom.
Tony Woodcock had ball in hand, a bit of a grin on his face and was running straight at me. Off to his left, clearly relishing the prospect of being first to the breakdown to clean me out, is Andrew Hore.
I’m still sore this morning. But it’s the most contented and “nice” sore I’ve felt in a long time.
On Saturday, I played my first senior club rugby game of the year. Since moving to Queenstown, I’ve been doing a bit of casual backs coaching at the Wakatipu club and when I was asked if I’d play the odd game, I was silly enough to agree, rationalising it as a way to keep a bit of fitness up at 39.
It was quite some debut assignment. For starters, they don’t come much bigger in Queenstown.
Wakatipu was making their second defence of the White Horse trophy which I am reliably told is the second oldest trophy in New Zealand rugby to the Ranfurly Shield only.
Our opponents were Maniototo who just happened to have a couple of brothers named Charlie and Andrew Hore who had brought along their mate Tony for a run as well. They soon let me know they were there.
My first wobbly pass was greeted with a chuckle from Horey and the comment: “Nothing’s changed, huh Marshy?” (his first wobbly lineout throw drew the same response from me of course!).
Reflecting yesterday on the game, the beers and camaraderie I had afterwards with the Hores, Tony and players from both sides (it was quite some night!), I was surprised at what it stirred in me.
Outside of the presence of two current All Blacks (and a crusty older ex-one), this was as grassroots as rugby gets in New Zealand.
We had the women being thanked for the plate, the speeches from both teams, the winning team (thankfully us) drinking from the trophy, the re-living of the game’s high and low moments, the banter and rugby’s spirit flowing freely among opposing players.
I found that unexpectedly inspiring and it reminded me of why I played rugby in the first place.
Horey just looked at me with a knowing wink. He says this is why he plays for Maniototo whenever he can. Woody was more animated. He was loving this environment.
Let’s face it, these two guys were on a bye weekend following a miserable first half of the Highlanders’ season. Yet they wanted to play club rugby.
I now understand why. It’s a release. Professional rugby is hard. It’s a slog. It’s mentally and physically demanding. You never get to relax. Even straight after a game, you are constantly on the recovery treadmill, drinking this vitamin potion, doing this, doing that….
And it’s a shame on two counts.
Firstly, I think there’s a direct link to the increasing number of pro rugby players getting in trouble and the fact they don’t have an anchor like club rugby in their life. Secondly, they are often lesser rugby players for not playing for clubs.
When I was at the Saracens in the UK, there was a gifted young player whom they weren’t sure about. They rated him but told me his skills would occasionally let him down, that he could go missing at certain times in games.
I said: “Look he just needs to play some rugby”.
Like so many good young players around the world, he’d never been exposed to club rugby. He had been signed into an academy as a kid, and spent more time in the gym than on a rugby field because these academy teams just don’t play much rugby.
He came to Christchurch for a season to play for the Sumner club. He spent a year playing week-in, week-out, through injury and having to front up to tough bastards time after time with no excuses accepted. He went back to England and was a starting winger for Saracens all of last season.
Therein lies another point. Senior club rugby, at least in New Zealand, is tough. It takes courage, commitment and real team-work to get through those 80 minutes. The quality is high, the commitment unwavering. You feel a sense of ownership with your team-mates.
I haven’t been rucked as much as I was on Saturday in years. You see it coming, you know it’s going to sting but you cop it. It’s what happens when you’re on the wrong side of a ruck. That and other experiences make something of you.
And it’s those experiences, the mateship and friendships you gain that is priceless. Somehow we’ve got to find a way to keep these young men we are putting on the pro rugby treadmill tapping into that spirit.
They would be better for it. With my point now made, I will limp off to the mineral baths.
But not without reminding my old mates Horey and Woody that we won 34-24, the trophy is still ours and the bruises don’t really hurt as much as they think they do.
And, no, it wasn’t me who punched you, Horey. I’d never be that stupid.
Andrew Hore and Tony Woodcock will be All Blacks again this year. Having played against them on Saturday, and witnessed first hand their quality, I have no doubt about that.
Their presence at club rugby in Queenstown on Saturday drew people from far and wide. Both played their part and were outstanding ambassadors for our game.
You can only be impressed by the remarkable turnaround the Blues have made under JK from last year.
They will learn a huge amount from their loss in Brisbane. As a predominantely young team they probably should have won that game.
What I’m really enjoying from this side is the brand of rugby they are playing. High tempo, fast and physical. It’s great to watch and hard to combat. They will be there at the business end if they can keep this up….
The Hurricanes losing in Palmerston North could have derailed their campaign.
Now off to SA I believe they need to win both of their games over there to survive.
A tough off field week didn’t help and the Stormers came in under the radar without the media attention and did a number on the Canes.
The Chiefs are still not firing on all cylinders but when they ignite they look very much a class above their opposition.
They just need to find that consistency on defence and attack to put in more complete performances. When they unlock that box the world is their oyster…