David Flatman: Sorry I missed the hat-trick... I was busy chewing grass
View from down under with the England prop
Sunday 13 June 2010
A tour is not a tour until games have been played. And now they have, so we're off. Just under an hour and a half of sport for me in midweek meant so many different things for so many different reasons. For the trip itself, as an event, it brings it to life, makes it real. But as well as playing the part of a (somewhat tardy) starter's pistol, it was England versus the Aussies.
Despite the fact that, seemingly, it was not important enough to be televised, this was yet another sporting contest to which the men involved offered every single iota of effort their bodies would allow. Every training session, every word spoken by a helpful coach or a loving parent or an omniscient commentator had led us to this point and, as is only right, those fortunate enough to have been delivered to this place in time committed to give it all to the cause.
The game was incredibly fast, with both sides seemingly intent on having a go from anywhere. Every error was pounced upon by the opposition and never was there any attempt to disguise the ambition in mind. Being objective, one might say there were a few too many mistakes for this game to be labelled a classic but mistakes only ruin a game if they mean no points are scored and if they are cause for play to continually be halted. Neither happened here. 28-28 says enough, I think, of the spirit in which the game was played.
Both sides wanted desperately to win and, inevitably, this meant that when points were on offer we wanted to take them. With Olly Barkley on the field it would be silly not to, unless you're an Australian, of course. Every time we opted to kick for goal they booed and jeered, even being joined by one of the home players at one point! The tables were turned, however, when in the second half we had mounted a brilliant comeback and they pointed at the sticks themselves. A point I did not forget to make to the offending individual at the next ruck.
To play for England again brought back a lot of great memories. OK, so it was not the Test team I was in but we still put on the right shirt and sang the right anthem. Players from rival teams came together to compete against one of England's oldest sporting enemies and it felt right. It felt like we would have done anything not to lose to those men (though, in honesty, they were a good bunch when we met them afterwards). Of course, they felt the same and that was what made it, I imagine, a great spectacle for those on the sidelines. The vibe in the dressing room before kick-off was a lot like it is at club level; loud music, endless boxes of kit for any body part you can think of and large bodies strewn all over the floor stretching whatever muscles feel tight. I was lucky enough to change next to Lee Mears. I don't know what it was that stunted his growth at the age of eight but, as long as we are in the same team, I am grateful as I had all the room in the world. Playing for Bath I sit next to Danny Grewcock, so you can do the maths.
Once the result was decided, I felt my phone vibrating with messages of differing tones. Some were congratulatory, others were despairing, but all were appreciated. One friend, following the game from his home in Miami, asked me what it was like to play against hat-trick hero James O'Connor. "Oh, did he score?" I replied, "Didn't notice". I wasn't joking. Now I think about it, he rings a bell, but during the match he could have dressed up as Mick Dundee and I might have missed it. This is the life of a prop; one's proudest sporting moments so often flash by while one is busy chewing grass in the hope it contains some oxygen. Mind you, if it wasn't me, somebody else would have to do it and I'd only wish my job on the most deserving of enemies.
The only thing left to do is beat the Aussies, then. The only good thing to come out of a draw is that it isn't a loss, and that offers little consolation to the first-class athlete. We are here to win matches but to do so one must be on the field so now my only hope is that fate, or whatever it is, conspires to deliver me to the right place come kick off next week.
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