Recently I did something I’ve never done before: I watched my first live rugby match. Actually, forget the live – it was my first rugby match of any kind.
A city centre stadium would not normally lure me away from our cottage fireside on a chilly Sunday afternoon, but I was subject to a force of nature: Hurricane Laura, aka my nine-year-old daughter.
Laura had been taking part in a tag rugby course at school, run by an outreach coach from Bristol Rugby Club. Always keen to try a new sport, Laura threw herself into the game in a style all of her own. Rather than jostling competitively with the other children, she trotted round picking up the tags as they were dropped, politely handing them back to the players who’d lost them. She does like things to be tidy.
At the end of the course, the Rugby Club kindly gave a free match ticket to every child who had taken part. Ah, those outreach folk are smart: how many junior school children are likely to go to a rugby match unaccompanied? Consequently every child’s family had to buy at least one adult ticket. As the match fell on a Sunday afternoon, when most families like to do something together, most of the rugby-playing children had more than one parent in tow. One little girl even took her grandparents and baby brother too.
And so it was that on Sunday afternoon, with woolly hats, thermos flask and gritted teeth, we dutifully took our place in the stands. (Stands? What’s that about? Why not seats? I thought rugby was meant to be a civilised game.) Our spirits lifted a little when we spotted the stadium’s cafe selling piping hot pasties. Well, rugby does burn off a lot of calories. But to my surprise, I soon found myself distracted from my pasty by the game. This I did not expect.
As the match got under way, I discovered that it was like watching ballet without music, in which all the ballet dancers are on 6,000 calories a day. Although the players had legs like tree trunks and the physical resilience of a tank, they had real balletic grace. As they surged across the pitch, entirely focused on seizing the ball, their raw power reminded me of lions hunting gazelles on an African plain. Actually, it was more like lions hunting lions. I especially liked it when, for some reason I did not understand, a smaller player was pitched up above the scrum, half leaping, half hurled into the air. The only damper on my enjoyment was worrying about whether they’d hurt themselves.
By half time, my grasp of the rules was still slim. It was a breakthrough moment when I realised that the total on the right of the scoreboard was not the second team’s score but the number of minutes that had been played. No wonder the team I’d thought was losing was looking so cheerful.
As the game drew to a close, I looked down at my daughter. She had spent the first half playing on the steps with her friends, before sharing a portion of chips with them at the interval. For the whole of the second half, she had been completely engrossed in a sticker book, neatly dressing up dolls in foreign costumes. The closest she’d come to watching the match was getting the autograph of a man in a bear costume serving as the home team’s mascot.
But never mind, I think she got her money’s worth for her ticket.
This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser (December 2012/January 2013).
If you enjoyed this post, you might like these other ones about my daughter’s attitude to sports: