Saturday, June 02, 2007

A Very Sporting Day - interesting but also odd

Today turned out to be a very sporting day.

It began with the usual Saturday morning hockey at Olympic Park, Clare in goal. This was very much a game in two parts.

Clare's team was all over the place in the first half. The other side attacked and attacked, with five short corners in a few minutes. This pattern continued for most of the half. One had to get through in the end, and it did. Then in the second half the game reversed itself, with constant St Cath's attacks. In the end Kambala won, knocking St Cath's out of the finals. But it was all very exciting.

I am going to miss school sport. There will be another hockey competition next term, and then that's it, bringing to an end twelve years of watching. Where did the years go?

After that I decided to go and watch my old school, The Armidale School, play rugby against Shore. I had been meaning to do so for a while, but TAS's visits to Sydney are irregular and I normally do not find out about them until after the event. This time, Rob Busby - the president of the Sydney branch of the Old Boy's Union - emailed us to let us know that it was on.

I found it a slightly odd if interesting experience.

To begin with, I almost did not get there. I had not been to the grounds before, found I did not have a street directory in the car, so had some trouble finding the place. In the end, I got there almost by accident.

Then I found multiple games on multiple fields, so wandered around a bit in the crowd trying to find the right field. My daughters' school is not huge in numbers, and I forget how big some of these Sydney schools are. Somebody in the crowd said that Shore has 45 rugby teams, making coordination a major exercise.

I have lived in a household of women for the last nineteen years, and this was actually the first time since moving to Sydney that I have been to a sporting event involving boys or indeed had much contact with boys outside family members or my daughter's friends. It was a very different feel.

When I later said this to my eldest, a strong rugby supporter, she just laughed. Apparently the idea of hundreds of rugby playing boys is one of her ideas of heaven!

I finally found the field where the TAS seconds, my old team, were playing. I will talk about the rugby itself in a moment, but the TAS team was coasting.

One of the Shore parents commented that you could see the difference between the skill levels and the training available to the two teams. And indeed TAS had coaches there for both the forwards and backs.

I found this very strange because Shore is a rugby school, then I found that our seconds were playing Shore fourths, the firsts Shore thirds! I found this very odd indeed, because when I was playing we played the equivalent level teams. Because TAS was a smaller school, we sometimes lost by reasonable margins - especially against Joeys - but we won a fair bit as well.

In any event, all three TAS teams won, although I thought that both the seconds and firsts - the firsts scored 17 points in very quick time - relaxed in the second half, allowing Shore back into the game.

I found the rugby itself interesting. I have always liked school boy rugby because it is often faster and more free flowing than the adult game, especially at club level. That's still true, but I was struck by the differences since the last time I had watched it all those years ago.

To begin with, the boys were all so much bigger in both height and weight, something I was aware of but had not really realised until I found myself surrounded by school teams. Some of the backs were incredibly fast too. Then the skill levels in some of teams were very high indeed.

All this has opened up a huge gap between the best teams and the rest. I saw several sides absolutely slaughtered as they struggled to contain bigger, faster and better trained opponents.

All this begins very early. A little while ago I put up a story on the Regional Living Australia blog about the visit of the Sunshine Coast Grammar School under twelves to TAS to take part in the annual TAS national primary rugby carnival. I was now seeing the end result of the process.

None of this was available when I started playing. However, there is one downside.

I played six years of school rugby often on hard fields without ever getting hurt beyond a corked leg. There were injuries, but they were rare. A faster, more professional game played by larger boys seems more injury prone.

In the under sixteen match one TAS boy had to be taken from the field by ambulance, although fortunately I understand that he is okay. Within seconds of the start of the match involving the firsts with TAS attacking the Shore line. a TAS back was felled by an apparent high tackle and had to leave the field, with one of the seconds coming on to take his place.

It was a confused piece of play for at least this spectator because it all happened so fast, but one outcome appeared to be a penalty try. Later in the match a Shore player had to leave the field with what looked like a broken or at least damaged wrist.

Would I go again? Yes, I think so, although next time I will bring some company. I met up with some of the TAS old boys at the end, but prior to that I felt somewhat isolated on strange grounds alone in the middle of a crowd of boys and parents none of whom I knew. That, too, was part of the oddness.

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