It was always going to be a difficult moment, watching my boy play his very first game of contact rugby. Stacey and I drove down to the school in a state of silent tension.
Our boy is very small for his age and therefore rugby is not, until the growth spurt, really going to be his game. Stacey disagrees and she has personal experience in the matter. Before I met my wife she spent a couple of years in Hong Kong as a hooker. Fortunately not as an employee of the legendary "Seven Floors of Whores", but for a women's rugby team.
My wife is on the short side (he said delicately) and yet she claimed this never prevented her being successful on the playing field. I had to tread diplomatically in this area and gently mentioned that she has quite the temper, a relic of her Scottish ancestry and (this was the tricky bit) women's rugby was possibly a tad less aggressive? I slept in my home office for a couple of nights after this conversation.
The opposition were late and so we had our first opportunity to watch our son's team train. It was pretty terrifying. They had a very keen young Kiwi teaching them – this was a good sign … until he actually stepped away at one moment and put his head in his hands in utter despair.
The team looked like one you would cast in a film in which all the misfits and no-hopers are forced on to the playing field. Walking and chewing gum at the same time was a struggle for many. The idea of passing a ball and running with it was a complete no-no. At one stage the Kiwi screamed at a boy: "Please, while I'm teaching you, stop running around flapping imaginary wings and making chicken noises …" He was probably the best player on the pitch. Other of "our" parents looked at us nervously. This was not going to end well. Then the opposition arrived. I knew the name of the school. They were the best rugby school in the country. Their team looked twice the size of our lot. They started running up and down the pitch in perfect formation, smoothly passing the ball along military-style lines.
This was going to be murder. The opposition parents took up their places on the other touchline. They were all brutish looking men, some of whom I could even remember playing against in my distant schooldays. I swear I heard a chant of "Kill, maim, cripple, disfigure" at one juncture.
It was a massacre. The lowest moment for me was when the referee told the opposing team to let ours win a scrum as they hadn't had the ball once. They did try, but we somehow managed to kick it back through their ranks. I lost count of the final score.
My boy was swung around in the air by some brute before being punched hard in the eye. He started crying and I was as close to homicide as I have ever been. When it was over, nobody was dead – this was the only good news from a very traumatic afternoon.
In the movie script our team will become winners – in real life I feel that a permanent sick note might be our only hope.