how to play rugby

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The Independent Culture
With the Five Nations in full swing, not to mention the new age of professional players, there has never been a better time to take up rugby.

With this is mind, I decided to check out the situation at grass-roots level and threw myself on the mercy of the Preston Grasshoppers, home of former England forward, Wade Dooley, and the starting point of Paul Grayson, now kicking for his country.

The big contracts are really the tip of Rugby Union's iceberg; beyond this, rugby is a social sport, played by an army of players at various levels. The Preston Grasshoppers, for example, run 19 teams in total, from the under-sevens to the over-50s.

And it's never too late to have a go, if Ennis O'Donnell is to be believed. Undaunted by his 55 years, he still turns out regularly for Preston's senior team, The Strollers. The story is the same at rugby clubs all over the country. If you're relatively able-bodied, the chances are that your local rugby club will be able to find a team for you.

There's even the added incentive of an invitation from Wade Dooley: ''If you're new to the game, just get down to a club like this and they'll give you some direction."

The first direction that colts trainer Malcolm Alden gives us is an unceremonial "Get your kit on". We subsequently jog through sheets of rain towards the floodlit training pitch. I am very relieved to hear that we will only play the less physical touch rugby (one touch counts as a tackle), which some observers feel should be brought into the international arena. It would certainly improve our chances in the next World Cup, especially against the likes of Jonah Lomu.

Despite this, I am gasping for breath after about 10 minutes, so I resolve to play at my own pace, frequently languishing in obscure parts of the pitch. When play mysteriously materialises around me, I have the advantage of surprise. At one point I even find myself with a clear run-in for a try. Ignoring threats from my leaden legs, I lumber the final 10 yards to the line. They could well have scored two more before I get back to the half-way line, but I am past caring.

Next off are the training movements, which make the game more comfortable because of the lack of opposition. Then it is time for another game.

The forwards' pleas for contact rugby, sound more like a baying for blood to me. But common sense, or humanity, prevails, and touch it is, which I survive by hovering around the fulcrum of play.

Saturday evening at 6pm, and all the games have been played. A scrum forms around the bar and another important function of a rugby club is played out. A club like Preston Grasshoppers forms the centre of a great many social lives. Alcohol becomes the great leveller as third-teamers compete with first-teamers in drinking games - even Tom Moore makes it back from injury to join in.

I'm invited to participate, but manage the quickest side-step I've done all week. I retreat to the other end of the bar, where I endeavour to talk my way on to the Strollers' books. Another five years and I should make the age range - I'll probably need the time to get fit as well.

Judging by the way I felt the next morning, I won't be bothering Jack Rowell's selection plans just yet. But, if they ever form an international side for touch rugby, I'll be first in the queue.