Wednesday has always been my favourite day of the week at University. As a fresher moving to a new town, meeting new people with a newfound sense of independence, I was scared but excited about what the next few years would hold for me.
Most people's favourite day of the week is probably a lazy Sunday, an eventful Saturday or even the joyous knowledge of knowing your week is over on a Friday afternoon. But since my first week of University, mine has been Wednesday. Every Wednesday through first and second term of every year, I play rugby for the University of Kent's Canterbury campus, even though now I attend my lectures and seminars at Medway. Through representing UKC Men's Rugby I made the best friends I could ask for, had some of the funniest nights out of my life and experienced things and had opportunities I never thought I would.
(Look how happy we are to be rugby lads)
Going into my fourth year, I was an established member of the 100 or so strong squad that make up the 5 teams at Kent, and personally I felt myself to be one of the better players available. Preseason was typically gruelling, with two fitness sessions per day with a skills session inbetween testing the endurance of even the most committed athletes on the team. My attendance to every session unfortunately meant I was unable to attend the freshers week sessions at the Centre for Journalism, as I was busy sweating out hangovers and preparing myself for my final season of University Rugby, one in which I am determined to succeed in. Whilst I have had a lot of fun playing rugby for the University, having won more games than I've lost and being unbeaten in Varsity against Canterbury Christchurch, I have never been promoted or won the league/cup, something I am intent on achieving in my final year.
Heading into the season and looking at my timetable for University, it became abdunantly clear I would be unable to play the majority of fixtures, as I could only really commit to home games. This was disappointing but realistically a necessary sacrifice as I do my best to cop a Masters. After a month of training and hard work, I would never truly be in a settled team as I could only play for whoever was at home. Thus, come the first game of the season I was not to play for the 2nd team as expected, but to play for the third team against Surrey 2s. Whilst disappointing, this did allow me to shine as one of the best players on the pitch, and scoring the winning try underneath the posts was a highlight as we recorded a 27-22 victory at Parkwood Fortress. Playing my preferred position at Number 8 was fun, as was knowing that I had the ability to significantly effect the outcome of the game as an individual, but I still felt I was capable of playing at a higher level, and that my play meant I deserved to do so.
Fortunately, Committee agreed with my assessment of myself, and when the 2nd team were at home I found myself playing for them. This was a higher standard of rugby, with the 2nd team being two leagues above the 3rd, and I had to work harder on the pitch, but found myself enjoying my rugby more for it. My first away appearance of the season was actually meant to be for the 1st team, as they drew Medway in the cup. As I am already on the Medway campus on Wednesdays, this would be one of the few away games of the season I would be available for. Unfortunately, they failed to turn up on the day. As the 1st team for the Canterbury campus is top of the league in a higher league than the Medway campus, they likely knew they would not win the game and thus didn't bother trying. It was a disappointment not to make my first team debut, but I would get my chance at revenge a week later.
Whilst the UKC 1st team may be a league above Medway and only be able to play them in the cup, the 2nd team and Medway are in the same league. Thus the following Wednesday, I arrived at Medway RFC having spent the day in Medway, but wearing my UKC Men's Rugby tie to play against my new campus. A 29-12 victory for Kent meant we cemented our place at the top of league, whilst keeping Medway bottom and winless. This was probably one of the games I had the most fun playing in my time at University, a physical fixture played in the right spirit. I spent much of my time making tackles on big, physical Medway forwards who had a lot of size but limited rugby playing ability, all the time reminding my teammates that the Kent colours don't run and my allegiances hadn't changed, even though I now study at and am eligible to play for Medway. Playing against people I knew from the Journalism course who were representing Medway also made the game that little bit more exciting, with an added incentive to win and earn bragging rights. To do so was a pleasure.
Unfortunately, this would be my last appearance in 15-a-side rugby for a while. When I said university rugby allowed me to enjoy experiences I never thought I would, I didn't just mean getting my tie in first year. One of my teammates and closest friends is the daughter of a woman who helps in the running of the Christina Noble Children's Foundation. To celebrate their 30th anniversary, they decided to enter a team in the Dubai International 7s tournament. Thus myself, three of my best friends and a select rag-tag group of rugby players flew to Dubai, stayed in a 5 star hotel courtesy of sponsors, received hundreds of pounds in free kit, equipment and general stash, had one training session together and then played in one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world on behalf on CNCF.
(An absolute stable of great blokes representing a great charity)
Whilst usually when playing rugby I feel confident, always believing in my ability as one of the best players on the pitch, 7s was an eye-opener. A very different brand of rugby led to me often following instructions from my teammates rather than giving them out. Not feeling like one of the best players on the team, despite being far from the worst, was a new experience for me and one I found humbling. Despite our lack of experience playing together, the team gelled well and exceeded expectations with our performances. With three wins from three we topped our group, confidently dispatching every side we played against. Our form continued until the Semi-Final, in which we lost to BSAK Old Boys in a game we realistically should have won. Despite being the better side, we wasted multiple opportunities before conceding a last minute try on the counter attack, ending our chances of playing in the Final and taking home silverware. My performances in the 7s weren't as good as I was expecting or hoping, and this is something that has driven me to work harder on my game on the playing pitch, training pitch and in the gym to ensure I do better next time as I realised my limitations as a player. Despite our eventual loss, the week spent in Dubai was probably the best of my life. Whilst I felt guilty missing lectures and seminars to be there, the group couldn't have gotten on better as all the boys were fantastic, and upon the conclusion of the tournament the charity said we represented them phenomenally, and told us they would love us to do the same again in 2020. Dubai, until next year.
(A disappoointed but proud huddle after we lose our Semi-Final)
The camaraderie on what was essentially a rugby tour was brilliant. Despite most of the boys having never met before and having travelled from places as far-flung as Hawaii and China, everyone got on superbly. Tasks ranging from the hilarious to the likely illegal in Dubai were met with gusto, and nobody shirked away from the challenge. Our final night consisted of multiple £10 pints, and a fines session based heavily around singing, drinking and the consumption of some of the spiciest chilis I've ever tasted. With multiple promises to reunite soon, it was an emotional but happy parting of ways, safe in the knowledge that we would be back to do the same again in 12 months time.
(Can't wait to be back next year)
A combination of my desire to improve as a rugby player and jet-lag meant I spent the next week getting up at 5am to go to the gym before catching the 7:30 bus to Medway from Canterbury to study, making me feel vastly more productive than I ever had before. Unfortunately, UKC had no matches left until after the Christmas break, but I was itching to play one last game of 15-a-side rugby union before going home for Christmas. Thus, I found myself playing men's rugby for the first time. Whilst throughout my life I have always played rugby, be it at school or University, I had never played for an adult club side, containing players twice my age. I received a message from a friend saying they were short on players for an away game on the coming Saturday and if I was available I could play. I jumped at the opportunity, and three days later jumped into a car and found myself in a changing room with 16 men I had never met in my life, being told I was their starting inside centre. This was a position I had never played before, but I was reassured that as one of the fastest and fittest players in the side I would be fine.
Men's rugby is extremely different to University rugby. Playing for the University, everyone is young, fit and athletic, and people tend to be sprinting across the pitch for the vast majority of the 80 minutes. The skill levels are high, and competition is fierce but fair. My first appearance for Canterbury Rugby Club was very different. Whilst I knew it was only the 3rd team for Canterbury, I expected the standard of rugby to still be high. I was wrong. Fitness amongst most players was dire, with many of the forwards being well over 30 in both age and, potentially, stone. This led the game to be played at a much slower pace than I was used to, with ball retention also being far worse. Much of the game was taken up by scrums, and playing centre meant this led to me doing a lot of standing around, hoping I would get the ball. On the few occassions I did get the ball, I was able to make significant metres thanks to my advantage in years and speed over my opposite man, as well as dictating play through choosing the angle of attack for the rest of the team. The game was close, and with only a few minutes left to play Canterbury were a point behind. Whilst many of the older, heavier players on the pitch were struggling to run, I still had something left in the tank. Thus, when the opposition fly-half was wrapped in the tackle and looking to offload, I saw my opportunity. Using this rare chance to be one of the fastest players on the pitch, I identified where he wanted to pass and made an interception, running 50 metres with ball in hand to score under the posts uncontested, kicking the following conversion myself to put Canterbury 6 points ahead. Our defence held strong for the last minute, making tackle after tackle before turning the opposition over and kicking the ball out of play to end the game, meaning I had scored my second game-winning try of the season. Playing with people up to twice my age was strange, and I felt almost rude shouting instructions and encouragement to people I barely knew who were vastly older than me, but as one of the best players on the team and someone who is usually vocal and organisational on the pitch, I felt it was my duty.
Whilst this was a bizarre experience, the opportunity to score a try such as that one would likely have never come playing for the University of Kent, as I simply wouldn't be fast enough relative to the opposition to run so far uncontested. Following the game, Canterbury's captain told me I was welcome to play for him whenever I wanted, an offer I will take him up on. Playing a new position was a lot of fun, and I believe it will help me improve my skills as a rugby player all-round, something I am eager to do. Hopefully, continuing strong performances for Canterbury 3s will help me move up and play at a higher level for the Men's side, as well as helping me improve to push to be the best I can be when playing for my University side. This also means I can play rugby every Saturday, as on Wednesday's it depends which teams are playing at home due to my time studying in Medway.
It's been a good term in all for rugby. The Dubai 7s was the best week of my life, a truly unbelievable experience that made me feel extremely grateful and blessed just to have the opportunity to be there, yet alone to have played in it. My matches of the University of Kent's Canterbury Campus have been fun too, and whilst I can only make sporadic appearances due to commitments to study, I am yet to lose a game this season for the University, putting us on course to achieve an unprecedented League and Cup double. Making my debut for Canterbury Rugby Club and playing a new position was also a lot fun, and I look forward to continuing to play for them next term alongside the University side. Learning that I can play club rugby for a Men's side after I graduate from University was great, as I can keep playing the sport I love regardless of age, fitness or whatever else may change in the coming years. The only things I wish I could change is that I am not always available to play on a Wednesday due to my studies at Medway, and that my dad lives in Portugal and thus never has the opportunity to watch me play, as I would love to play well in front of him. Next term I look forward to playing matches twice a week for both Canterbury and the University of Kent when possible, as well as my Varsity game against Canterbury Christchurch.