The Rugby World Cup reminds me of first getting my hands on an oval ball in my early 20s.
I was working around Mid-Wales and there wasn’t much else to do – so I joined a local team.
Our Welshpool side would turn up at sloping village pitches with only half a dozen players.
Many in our team were farmers so had to deal with emergencies like sows in labour.
For extra players, our captain would go round the assembled family crowd with a bag of spare kit asking for volunteers – who would quickly get changed by the sidelines.
Tactics were simple, you attacked when commanding the top end of a sloping pitch (usually littered with frozen cow-pats), then defended in the lower half when at a disadvantage. The best bit came afterwards, when the village pub would open up specially to provide us with beer and pies.
Despite its rudimentary nature, our motley team trained hard and played with passion. It included county players (there are many small counties in Wales) and I was never as fit as then.
One oddity was, as I played for a Welsh team, whenever I saw England play at Cardiff Arms Park, or Wales play at Twickenham, I was always in the midst of Welsh fans. Still, no one minded.
This absence of crowd aggression, matched by a lack of selfish posturing on the pitch, has made this ‘game for ruffians played by gents’ widely popular.
The main lessons from this English sporting tradition, from that public school of the same name, is there’s a place for all of whatever size. It instils courage but also encourages a healthy respect for power from the large, and speed or agility from the small. There’s also the pride and pleasure of being part of a team.
It’s just a pity more nations don’t play to its rules.
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