David Flatman: Bloody battle is nothing after midwife disdain
View from the front row with Bath & England prop
Sunday 13 September 2009
To assume the life of a modern-day rugby player is one consisting only of glamour, adrenaline and disposable time in which to spend disposable income, is to land wide of the mark. This week alone has provided quite the appropriate emotional cross-section, taking this prop forward from ecstasy to agony, from peak to trough.
Running out at Kingsholm as a Bath player just gets better and better. The feelings aren't all about professionalism and polish, despite the yawn-inducing claims of those embittered players of generations past (you know the ones – they are the old geezers who feel unable to embrace sporting evolution and who seem, perversely, to delight in rugby's well-publicised summer of hell). Our motivation runs far beyond statistics and body-fat percentages. To be part of that side made me feel almost overwhelmingly proud, truly privileged. To be received with all the traditional hostility and aggression of the Shed was, believe it or not, my version of bliss.
Mixed in with the jeers and jibes emanating from the home supporters was some truly original, spontaneous humour that made me smile in the least likely of situations. The very first time Greg Somerville and I climbed into one another I felt my right ear explode. It is not so much the pain that proves inconvenient but the unholy amount of blood such a little wound can produce.
Sadly, it was not only me who took on the appearance of a war hero but poor old Somerville too. To be covered in somebody else's blood cannot be pleasant but he didn't seem to mind: "Sorry mate," I offered. He grinned: "Pretty creatures, aren't we?" But it was one razor-sharp fan who broke the tension and nailed the tone so eloquently. As I was receiving treatment and strapping for blood on the touchline I heard, in a very strong Gloucester accent: "Capsules go in your gob, kid, not your dicky ear." Comedy gold and proof that, despite all that is at stake these days, the game is still a game. It's still fun.
A mere 80 minutes after the first whistle, all the passion, all the honour and affirmation was dead. We were soundly beaten by a well-drilled, hugely competent Gloucester team and, no matter how hard we searched, we found no words capable of lifting us out of our pit of disappointment. But by Tuesday we were all back at the training ground laughing, joking and reminding one another that every team loses, that we are only one game in. This is professionalism, you see.
The ability to recover mentally as well as physically is a key weapon in the armoury of all top players. Sulking is a pastime reserved invariably for the ill-prepared, a pure time-waster. Then, just as I was starting to feel better about the world, a local midwife did her best to bring me back down to Earth. Fitting the real world around the ritzy rugby lifestyle can be awkward, so I arrived at the hospital for a routine check-up straight from the training ground. I quickly noticed that whenever my wife (posh and immaculately turned out) referred to me – or "Daddy" – the midwife's facial expression changed from one of polite excitement to one of pure sympathy. Unavoidably I was dressed in sweaty training kit with dried blood (real, I might add, from that doomed ear) all over my face after a pleasant morning of mauling.
At this point I realised my natural habitat doesn't involve a small plastic chair in a room with no windows but instead a field surrounded by thousands of battle-hungry spectators with our contest the main attraction.
It is not exhibitionism but the inner gladiator in us all that craves the self-fulfilment brought about by giving it all in The Big Match. Disposable time is dead time; the hour and a half at the weekend is why we're here.
Losing to Wasps always stings
What can I say about yesterday's 17-15 defeat by Wasps. Will "absolutely gutted" suffice?
I can't tell you how much I was willing Ryan Davis's last-kick-of-the-game conversion attempt from the touchline to go over. But it didn't and we lost. Why? We made one or two more defensive errors than they did. The margins can really be that small.
Sure, it hurt more because this was our first home game of the Guinness Premiership season and there was a great turnout – but we are professionals and it always hurts to lose. All we can do now is put our heads down in training. We have a lot of work to do.
Saying that, there were positives yesterday. It was definitely an improvement on the previous week. We more than matched Wasps physically, and they are one of the more physical sides in Europe. Of course it's easy to comment after the event, but perhaps 5-0 to us in the second half was not a true reflection.
It was 40 minutes of blitzkrieg and you've got to give it to Joe Worsley and Co – they defended manfully. Actually, with all the injury time, it was 60 minutes of blitzkrieg. As my calf muscles will testify.
Saving scrums is a forward move
The issue of uncontested scrums has caused journalists and props alike to lose the plot at times in recent seasons. Of course, men get injured in this sport and often there is no choice but to leave the field. Yet once again it is the pushing of the laws that has seen the situation become so inflamed. Now, with a complete front row on the reserves bench (increasing the total number to eight), scrums look set to become all-important once again.
As a prop there is nothing on Earth so frustrating as being told by the referee not to push, it feels so unnatural and restrictive. While to some (Philistines, we call them) the scrummage is merely a means by which to restart the game, to others it is the one phase of the game that sums up why we love it so. It has brute force coupled with technique, precise tactics expressed through the medium of blind aggression. Outside the boxing ring there are few examples of such pure confrontation that won't land you in a prison cell.
The scrummage is a wonderful test of a man and his commitment to the cause. Call it machismo, call it pointless posturing if you dare, but we are glad it has been saved by the men in blazers because we love it.
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