Having had a quick browse through recent blog posts, there seems to be a recurring theme. Isolation and coronovirus. Well, isolation is hella boring and coronavirus sucks. That's about all I have to say on it. Instead, whoever is fortunate enough to read this can once again be taken on an enlightening journey through my experiences as a dangerously average university rugby player. Sorry.
For University of Kent Men's Rugby players, second term is all about one thing. Varsity. Out of the 100 something players who make up the University squad, only 46 get to play Varsity, and only 30 get to start the two matches. For the 3rd, 4th and 5th teams there is no Varsity. But it's undeniably my favourite day of the calendar year. Most people might not really understand it, but we hate each other. I don't really know why, but we just do. They love to remind us that we're posh (?) and we love to remind them that they're a polytechnic. And I love it. I love every niggle, every late hit, every bit of banter. I love having hundreds of people watching me, my friends shouting my name and opposition fans calling me things I probably shouldn't write in a CFJ blog post. I love the attention, I love the energy and I love the intensity. I love the big stage, and essentially I really really love playing Varsity. Having won the previous two years when playing, and scoring the first time I played Varsity, I was excited for one last final go. First, I just had to make the team.
So it probably would have helped if I did any exercise over Christmas.
After scoring the (phenomenal) match winning try on my debut for Canterbury Rugby Club in my last match before Christmas, I was on a high. I was confident in my abilities and determined to make the starting XV for my Varsity match in the coming term. I proceeded to prepare myself by eating excessive amounts of Mumma Taylor's home cooking, and managing an embarassingly low amount of exercise. You could say I was a bit out of shape when I rocked up to University for my second term.
It was a blessing then, that my first game after Christmas was for Canterbury, and not the University of Kent. Men's rugby takes less fitness than University rugby, meaning my lack of said fitness would be less of an issue. My housemate came to play with me, and we made the drive to Tunbridge Wells. As is tradition for Canterbury, the pair of us were thrown out of position and played in the centres together. Despite both of us being back-row forwards for the University, we were looking forward to displaying outrageous levels of flair at 12 and 13 together.
As you can see, conditions were less than ideal for a free-flowing style of rugby. The ball was mostly kept in the forwards and we hardly touched it. By the end of the 80 minutes I was wet, muddy and honestly not even that tired, as we ball rarely travelling wide meant I didn't have much running to do. On a brief sidebar, my housemate is 6'4, I'm not short, and it upsets me that he makes me appear that way. But my God look at those smiles. Absolute stunners.
Unfortunately despite those gorgeous smiles, we lost the game, fondly remembered as the Tunbridge Wells Mud Bowl. But it was good run-out to help us prepare to play for the University again. With Harry (pictured left) aiming to start Number 8 for the First XV for Varsity and me hoping to occupy the same position for the Second XV, we needed all the preparation we could get.
So for my first game back playing for the UKC after Christmas I was disappointed to be named on the bench. A long away day to Royal Vets wasn't one I wanted to be on the sidelines for, but these things happen. Another day with pretty awful conditions was upon us, and on the touchline I was freezing. With about 25 minutes left to play our captain gave me the nod and I came on.
Fifteen minutes later I went off again, unable to walk. I was rushed to the hospital (the next day after a few beers to numb the pain on the way home), to find out I had torn my ACL. I was given crutches, and had a very frank conversation with the doctor. I explained that this was my last year of University rugby, and I didn't want to miss out. He told me take a week off, use my crutches and to take pain killers. Technically my ACL wasn't torn all the way through, so I could still run fine(ish). It would just hurt a lot, and if I was unfortunate it could tear more. This was, shockingly, music to my ears. Being young, dumb and keen to have fun I took his advice, and used crutches whenever necessary. I continued to train, but avoided contact training, and said in two weeks I would be back playing.
Two weeks passed, and somehow despite training less and being somewhat injured, I was starting for the Second XV away at Bucks. Running out to warm up, my knee hurt already. To say I was concerned would be an understatement. Rather than tell anyone, I took more painkillers, drank a redbull and played for 80 minutes in another victory. Despite mitigating circumstances it was one of my best performances of the season. The next day I felt it though, and I was on crutches again for the rest of the week. This honestly took a lot out of me, and I was in worse shape than I let on. After matches and training sessions I would collapse onto the sofa on the verge of tears, and struggle to get up hours later due to the pain in my knee. But I was determined to make the most of the time I had, so like all big boys, I firmed the pain publicly and privately texted my Mum for sympathy.
Even getting to the CFJ every day was difficult as I had to walk from the depths of Hales Place up to the bus stop in Keynes, either on crutches or with a limp depending on the state of my knee on the day. But I was determined to play, and didn't want to miss more lectures than I already had due to training. So there I was, training and going to classes like everything was fine, not revealing the fact that I was in a lot of pain essentially all the time. But if I told my captain, or anybody involved in the selection process, I wouldn't be considered for Varsity. So we move.
Fortunately, my next match for the University would not be for two weeks. This break gave my knee more time to recover, and I felt significantly more prepared, which was a good thing as I was playing against Medway, my new campus.
Training the last few weeks had been hard. We were training nearly every day in preparation for Varsity and this didn't do my knee much good, although fortunately I was allowed to sit out most of the contact sessions. 7am-9am sessions were regular, as were 7pm-9pm sessions in the evening too. As much as this took up almost all of my free time, and didn't give me much time to crack on with my assignments, it meant I was in great shape and great form heading into Varsity and the match before. The pain in my knee was still pretty bad, but tape, painkillers, redbull and stupidity are a hell of a combination, and got me through everything.
I love playing Medway. To be frank, they're big, physical and not very good. In essence this means all I have to do for 80 minutes is tackle, and let the backs score the tries. And that they did. We put Medway to the sword and won with an easy 30 point margin. My knee felt better, although not great, but I didn't even need crutches the next day. The win meant the Second XV finished our League season as undefeated, undisputed champs. Celebrations were on hold, however, as Varsity was just around the corner. We were, stunningly, on a drinking ban. Team sheets were due to come out the next day I was nervous to say the least. Would I start? Would I even be picked? I had no idea.
Ya boy started. He also played a full 80 minutes. Get in.
The game itself was great. Around 600 people came to watch, and after the First team had won the previous Saturday everyone was feeling confident, and prepared to do our job. I was psyched and ready to make some hits, and hopefully establish myself as one of the dominant performers in the game. A CFJ contingent of Alex, Olly and Liv came down to watch me play, alongside my friends of the last four years at University, as well as do some writing on the game for InQuire. Fortunately, this meant I got plenty of photos taken of me, and a few shout-outs in the match report.
On the pitch I'm a very vocal player. Having played for UKC for four years, I know our system inside out, and having spent two years on Committee I was confident and established enough within the team to be able to organise. Alex kindly mentioned my "bellowing" of orders, motivation and instruction on the pitch. Cheers mate. And Olly even managed to capture a photo of me scoring, because yes, I scored at Varsity. In my final year. Delighted would be an understatement. Unfortunately you can only see my hand under a pile of bodies, but still.
Here you can see the try of the season. A pick-and-go off the back of a ruck about half a metre from the try line. If you look very closely you can see my hand on the ball over the line, and my boot with rainbow laces at the back. Alas my face is nowhere to be seen. But it was me, I promise.
Weeks of 7am training every day had paid off, and my lack of sleep, social life, time to do assignments and the immense pain in my knee was worth it. Victory is always sweet, but it's sweeter when you know you and your teammates have worked extremely hard for it, and earned it.
To be perfectly honest, the game wasn't that competitive. We won by 6 or 7 tries to 1, and were dominant for the vast majority of the game. I had a great time and played pretty well, getting a few votes for Man of the Match, but most importantly the team had won, meaning UKC had secured a whitewash over CCCU for the second consecutive year, winning every single Varsity rugby game.
Not only did I win however, but I was fortunate enough to have played with two of my best friends, who I have played in the same team as for four years now. It felt great, and more importantly, this photo absolutely slapped on Instagram and copped a good 240 likes, so check me out. I like to think I look a great combination of rugged, worn and handsome. The people agree.
Anyway, here's a photo of an absolute stable of boys, 23 thoroughbred stallions who finished the season unbeaten, winning every single game we played and finishing as League and Varsity champions.
My last ever year, and term, of University rugby ended in the best way possible. I was undefeated, winning every single game I played over the year. I won the league, and scored a try in a Varsity game, which we also won. It couldn't really have gone better. It's sad that this is the end, and even more sad that there are a lot of people I'll probably never get the opportunity to play with again. But if it has to end, this wasn't a bad way to do it.
Sayonara, UKC Men's Rugby. It's been sweet.