Disclaimer: This entry is obsessively dedicated to rugby.
Since moving to Egypt, I have become smitten with rugby. On a good week, I spend an hour and a half at fitness training on Sundays, two hours at practice on Tuesdays, and over three hours on Friday mornings playing touch with an extraordinary team that is currently in first place in the league.
I should begin by saying that, despite the amount of time I invest in the sport, I am not very good at it. On the pitch, I’m frequently disoriented and oftentimes the skills I’ve learned at training seem to desert me when it comes to actually applying them. If I am angry, however, I can run very quickly and tackle fairly efficiently. And I have scored some tries, albeit in scrimmage matches.
But regardless of how terribly useless I am as a player, I absolutely love every second of it. I love watching my team effortlessly tackle the opponents, run the length of the pitch to score an intercepted try, execute a last minute switch just in time to score. I love being dragged through the mud, the feeling when you’ve latched on to someone and know you’re going to bring them to ground, and the soaring feeling of touching the ball down on the try line after sprinting through a sudden hole in the defense. I love that rugby, despite being contact and grunting and broken body parts, is just as much a mental workout. Each play takes a thousand different aspects of the game into account. Do you run straight, or pass? Do you pass left to the wing, or pop pass in a last minute switch? How can you lead the defense away from a teammate to create space for the person to receive a wide pass and run unobstructed for the try line? Can you send a player running ahead of the line to distract the opposition and throw a skip pass? When should you fake a pass, and how should you do it?
I am rubbish when it comes to executing any of these things. The most I can say about my skill is that I am capable of catching a ball and, usually, passing it. I can tackle girls and I can catch them if I’m feeling speedy. That’s about it. I know the rules now well enough to explain what’s going on in a match and I’ve happily found myself calling forward passes or knock ons just as the ref is blowing his whistle. When watching the 6 Nations tournament at the BCA, or watching training videos on YouTube, or watching Invictus for the twelfth time, I can explain why the players are going into a scrum, explain why the ref calls a penalty when the scrum collapses, identify a line out and explain why kicking can sometimes be strategic.
I love it. And every time I sit down to watch the sport, I learn something new. The best part about watching the 6 Nations with Simon is that he constantly runs commentary on everything going on, explaining why certain maneuvers are the best strategy for the match at the time and what the team should do to gain meters.
Today, I finally participated in my first real contact match. We’d scrimmaged each other enough and had a serious contact match a few weeks ago, but today was different. We took a bus three hours out to Alexandria where we played two women’s teams and won both matches. I can’t say that the victory was due in any part to my contributions, but I had a stellar time. The girls I play with are fabulous; they’re funny, they’re laid back, and they’re a blast to be around.
We spent three hours on the bus on the way there and arrived in Alex to freezing winds and driving rain on occasion. The pitch was literally a quick turn off a freeway. It lay nestled just behind an old ramshackle building that looked like it might serve as a storage hut out in Afghanistan. We thought it was terrible until we ventured into the bathrooms, which lacked sinks – don’t worry, they did have holes in the counter – and smelled absolutely fetid.
The unsanitary conditions were the least of our worries when we spotted a syringe on the sink top.
We played our games and watched the men play the final match against Alex. I’ll spare you the details of the game, but I will say that I take pride in our men’s team – not only are they amazing, but they appreciate the sport and play admirably – and find myself screaming on the sidelines when they fly in for tackles or score a try. This time, I got to witness two tap tackles for the first time, and they’re sort of mindblowing.
Simon was telling me about them the other day, so it was even better. If you can’t physically bring a player down in a tackle because they’re too far ahead, you can dive at their feet and just tap their foot – anywhere – and they will go down. Simon swore by this, saying it’s odd but true; if you tap a running player on the foot, he will always go down. I was very skeptical, but as I watched Chris’s player speed away and saw him dive last minute and tap the guy’s shoe, I was a believer; the guy fell flat out.
This was enthralling for me, but what made it even better was getting to see it again when Joe did it. I suppose this is another example of thinking on your feet and knowing when to apply which strategies, but it was brilliant nonetheless.
We stopped at McDonald’s on the way home and enjoyed a three hour bus ride back to Cairo. The bus driver did not believe in heat, so we shivered beneath the fans. I curled up on the seat and wished I’d brought a blanket, but reminded myself of the chilly bus ride from Cusco to La Paz a few years ago and made the best of it.
We ended the night at the BCA, where I caught up with Simon, who had stayed behind in Cairo to play our touch matches this morning. Valiha and I had been worried we’d have to forfeit or that we’d lose, but our team somehow tied with the best team in the league.
All in all, a very wonderful, albeit wet and chilly day of rugby.
I can’t wait to catch the next match of the 6 Nations next weekend.