I’ve just got through another weekend of the rugby season. For me, like lots of others I guess, that means watching quite a few games, live or on the telly, and that’s generally loads of enjoyment. This past weekend, however, gave me lots more than just the simple pleasure of the games, and showed me yet again, what a great game, OUR game truly is!
The weekend began early, because I was invited to speak at a Friday lunch, along with Robbie Deans, Nick Farr-Jones, rugby telecast legend (in Australia) Gordon Bray, and young Wallaby hooker, Tatafu Poloto-Nau. The lunch was being staged to assist in the recovery of an old first-division club, Parramatta Rugby Football Club, in the western suburbs of Sydney. The club had been formed in 1879, had been a participant in the Sydney First Division Premiership since its inception, but, like many clubs in the professional era, had fallen on hard times and was struggling for survival.
What struck me keenly was the rallying of support from the breadth of the Sydney rugby family – not only Parramatta club members, but a good number of their traditional opponents. The lunch was organised, for example, by a stalwart from another club, from way across the other side of Sydney, with nothing in common with Parramatta – except ‘rugby’. The lunch was a huge success; loads of old players from Parra’s premiership glory days, the old volunteers from the amateur days, and a new player – actually the club’s current star player – a man young in years, but with a wealth of wisdom and compassion, Tatafu Poloto-Nau.
Robbie Deans, Nick Farr-Jones and myself all spoke of the crucial importance of ‘club rugby’; Robbie actually said that the game “begins here and, to be fair, ends here!” This is where, and why, we all played the game! To belong, to give, to enjoy; never to take or, indeed, expect. The sheer joy of being a part of it, to work and compete together!
Deans spoke of rugby as the genuine team game, with a position for all shapes and sizes, and a role in the game for players of all levels – all equal in the one family. Nick Farr-Jones echoed Robbie’s words and struck a chord with all present. Tatafu impressed with his quiet intelligence and it was clear that he would not let his club fail. If necessary, he could carry it by himself in his (very capable) hands. A future Wallaby captain, if ever I saw one. Parra’s oldest Wallaby, Eric Tweedale, at 89 years of age was there, along with their youngest,’ TPN’, at 22 years!
They, clearly and simply, could not fail and I was proud to have been there and witnessed it, proud to be a part of OUR game.
Then, on Sunday, a neighbour called to ask a ‘favour’. He had two young Scots boys, visiting on an end-of-school trip to Australia. “Could they come over for a coffee and could we all watch the replay of yesterday’s game together?” Didn’t seem all that difficult to me, especially since, as a favoured neighbour, he and we were certain to be treated to one of my wife, Ruth’s, homemade cakes – and she’s a good cook!
And so we did. The coffee and the cake – it had chocolate and Grand Marnier in it – were delicious; one thing led to another and then we watched the Wallabies Grand Slam in 1984, then a “punch-up” between England and Australia, sometime in the ‘70s. I know how to get through to the Scots! The boys were enthralled at the speed of the ball movement – “much quicker than in the present game”, they declared. They eventually departed to ready themselves for a foray into the second-hand car market. “We’ll need a car”, they said. “We want to drive through to Victoria, then across (via vehicular ferry) to Tasmania, for a start’. Quite ambitious really, probably about 700 km each way.
After they left – as happy as larks – I felt quite elated as a part of the great rugby family, that stretches out a hand of friendship or of support, wherever and whenever there is need or opportunity.
God I love this game!