This is a sport short about a dive to score a try made in a rugby match years ago. Now this play didn’t change the game in any way. No, it didn’t make us win or lose, per say. This play did, however, stick with me for the rest of my life and change what I thought about being a “good player”.
UALBANY RUGBY MATCH– THE SELFISH DIVE
The minor details of this match have been washed away by time but what I do remember is this play. The game was about to end and victory was certain for us. We were up by way more than the opposing team could recover when a penalty was called. The scrum was to us and then I heard ‘last play’ called by the sir.
Another try wasn’t needed but I wanted to score. We were close and I just knew we could if we won the scrum. The scrum was won easily enough and the ball was off to the backs. One of our centers went into contact and she went down, with the perfect ruck formed. The ball was ours clean and I was set up to take it next.
I called for the ball and ran directly towards the goal line, heavily guarded.
This is where the selfish dive comes in.
Now I knew if I could burst through the line I would score– but to do this, I had about 5 girls I had to get through.
On my right, I had a line of forwards, all open. All just as capable as me.
Though I was guarded and they were not, I decided to go into contact, dive, and try to get the try scored on my own.
I dove into the pile and of course, was held up.
The girls on my right were open. There was no one to stop them from scoring, but instead of giving it over, I chose to try for the glory on my own.
Now, at the time, I was pretty enraged about this next part. Time, however, has moved me from a Ferris to a Rooney and so now I thank this deed for the betterment of the sport.
The sir, or ref called me over looking absolutely frenzied.
I have only since had refs look at me like this when I was about to get yellow carded (for something they probably saw wrong but that’s a WHOLE different story!)
Anyway, this older Irish man pulls me over to discuss the play. He is FURIOUS at me. ME?! This man is pulling me away from my team as they do our “hip hip hooray” cheers and he is mad at ME?!
The ref asks me if I realize how selfish the last play was?
I looked at him absolutely befuddled. I had had one of the best games to date at that time for me. Selfish?
The ref asks me if I realize how many forwards were open next to me?
I look at him the way you look at a cop asking you if you KNEW how fast you were going.
The ref asks me if I respect my teammates? Do I trust them? Do I want them to score too or DO I JUST NEED ALL THE GLORY?
The ref proceeds to tell me that if I want to be a great rugby player, I will learn to trust my team and allow others glory, too.
“You didn’t need that try this time, but if you did– you would have just lost it for your whole team because you chose to be selfish.”
The ref walked away.
The words hit me like bricks and made my brain spin with all of these excuses or reasons why HE was the one who was wrong. Who the fuck is he to talk to ME like that? You’re not my coach! Why did you think it was okay to pull me over and say that to ME?!?!
You’re not…. You’re not…. You’re not…
SHIT, HE WAS RIGHT
For anyone who heard me tell that story when I was younger, it sounded a little bit more like “An annoying ref got in my face. Who does he think he is?”
As a more tenured rugby player, I will instead say “Shit that man was right!”
I absolutely should have popped that ball off. I absolutely should have used the other players and given them the try that time.
As a young rugby player, it hurt to be told I was wrong, but I needed it.
CUE THE MONTAGE
In the decade of rugby that would follow, I can see all the plays where I could have done the same thing but chose to trust, chose to pass, to pop the ball off. I chose to give the glory to someone else or I chose to do the grunt work instead of just taking the ball.
I can recall the day I popped the ball to a player open allowing her first try ever. She hugged me after.
This montage feels just as good as my own highlight reel of scoring.
Honestly setting someone else up to score feels just as goddamn good as getting there yourself, and you don’t even have to be the one letting your body slam into the ground.
WASH RINSE REPEAT
There are lessons that solidify in our brains and then there are lessons that we need to relearn.
This is one of the latter for sure.
In my latest rugby match, yesterday 9/25/2021, I was at the line in a similar setup.
Now this time, I certainly didn’t have a forward line set or any players completely open. The defense had the goal line spread well.
I did, however, have the choice to try to slam the ball in to score the try or slow the play down and set it where my scrummie could get it out to someone else.
I chose, like I did all those years ago, to try to slam through the line and score.
The ball was called HELD UP!
Of course, hindsights a beauty, and if I could replay this reel, I would certainly set the ball down allowing my own team to recycle players and let someone else take that GLORIOUS step in the try zone.
Now, you would think this mirroring situation is the play that really triggered the memory of the selfish dive. Yet, it was a penalty play later in the game by the other team that made the connection.
Now THIS was an exciting scenario:
My team, the Albany Knickerbockers are up by 2. Providence rugby has the ball on a penalty play. They are within scoring range and last play was just called by the sir. The Knicks have spread the goal line; no holes in sight.
Before Providence can set up for the penalty play, a young player on their side takes the ball, kicks it to start the play, and GOES ON HER OWN!
This immediately triggered the memory for me.
Being on the opposing side, my mouth waters. This girl just left WITHOUT SUPPORT. She is asking to be smashed and for that ball to be taken from her.
I could see it in her eyes– she wanted the win! She thought if she could just break the line and score, they would win the game.
It didn’t happen like that. Instead, she got tackled and left her teammates scrambling to try to support her.
I left off to follow the ball but I heard another player pull her to give her that same talk the sir had given me so many years ago.
THE TEACHER IN ME IS THE TEACHER IN YOU
That in a nutshell is rugby. In rugby, you learn as much from the person next to you as from your coaches. By existing as a rugby player, I am inherently a teacher to the ones that will play with me, after me, etc.
Rugby as a sport can be taught with a book but rugby culture, the traditions of teamwork– those are the things that are passed from player to player.
THE BIG LESSONS
In rugby and in life, you have to trust your team. You can’t do it all by yourself and you build trust by trusting in everyone’s capabilities. No one can get better if they don’t get their hands on the ball and NO ONE LIKES A BALL HOG IN REAL LIFE EITHER!
In rugby and life, you never go without support and you never let anyone on your team go without support either.
When you start to see the big picture, that the glory is for the whole team as a unit, you become a better player and a better person.
To rugby, the sport and the people, thanks for the continued lessons. I’m still listening.