Losing my religion at the schoolboy rugby

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I had my first experience with Catholic schoolboys on the weekend… and it was simply thrilling. To be perfectly honest I was probably a little naïve going into the encounter, not really knowing what to expect.

But after forty odd minutes of stimulation I was completely hooked.

To say that it altered my persuasion forever is probably a little hyperbolic, but it certainly left an indelible imprint on my psyche.

To provide some context I’ll freely admit to experiencing extreme disillusion recently. I have put a lot of time, passion and faith in my existing relationship with little repaid. My loyalty has been severely tested, the damage inflicted almost irreparable.

And so it came to pass on a sunny Sydney Saturday afternoon that I made my way to the oval behind a prominent local Catholic school.

I was accompanied by two very close friends. Their presence and the ensuing camaraderie should have calmed my nerves and instilled some confidence.

Rather it only served to heighten by fears and misgivings, adding yet another layer of confusion to a troubled soul.

What was I doing here? I asked myself this question over and over. Did I really belong? Would I enjoy myself? Or would the more experienced participants see right through me, and immediately spot the imposter, the fraud, the outsider?

I allowed myself a moment to enjoy a last swig of Heineken, a roadie taken more as an act of self-posturing than a real thirst for alcohol. But the cold brew did serve to drown out some of the butterflies flitting nervously in my stomach.

As we finally marched onto the oval to join the rest of the group, and I saw my first glimpse of those muscular, athletic, young men, I knew I was in the right place.

Welcome to schoolboy rugby folks, and the marquee match-up between St. Joseph’s College (Joeys) and Riverview!

What stuck me first was the size of the crowd. Two grandstands at capacity and the standing area around the fence a least three deep. This was easily comparable to most Sydney NRL matches. Keep in mind the Seconds were still playing, with kick-off still 20 minutes away!

It wasn’t just the size of the crowd, but the quality of the noise it produced – loud and coordinated. It seemed that they had been studying tapes from ‘English Premier League’s Greatest Hits’, all the way down to belting out a wonderful rendition of ‘You’ll never walk alone’ and ‘Glory, glory’.

With eyes closed and ears pricked you almost felt transported off to the hallowed grounds of Anfield or Old Trafford… almost.

Then there were the players. These ‘kids’ looked like pro’s, carrying themselves with a swagger that belied their teenage years. Indeed Riverview’s hulking number 5 looked like he’d been repeating the Higher School Certificate for the past few years in a desperate bid to remain in the fifteen.

Eagerly anticipating kick-off we spied a rowdy group of fifty twenty-something’s on the opposite end of the field, all resplendent in tuxedos. Was this some secret society, a Masonic initiation, or something more sinister, like the party scene in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’?

None of the above sadly, just an enthusiastic group of Riverview lads celebrating their fifth reunion come to cheer on their alma mater. Earlier that morning we spotted them enjoying a breakfast of barley, wheat and hops at the Hunters Hill Hotel and by the sounds of it they continued on with that diet of sustenance throughout brunch and lunch.

The game itself was a cracker, albeit one-sided. The Riverview boys were too big and strong, the aforementioned number 5 making some wonderful runs, busting through tackles and carrying the ball forward like a young Ewen McKenzie. They easily controlled the ruck, dominating both field position and possession.

Unlike the tepid Wallabies display that same night, Riverview put on a show worthy of the game allegedly played in Heaven, going for tries, not kicking for goals.

Running rugby with crisp passes out wide and clever off-loads into great hands was the order of the day. Each time Joeys turned the ball over defense swiftly turned into attack.

Riverview quickly spread the ball out wide and the big winger (number 14) easily brushed off defenders as he speed down the touchline, doing his best Jonah Lomu impersonation.

In the end Riverview won deservedly, 45-20. Yet despite watching their faithful come up short the home crowd was phenomenal all the way through to the final whistle.

Our only disappointment was discovering all too late that alcohol was available for purchase. To quote one friend: “Free entry and parking, a great crowd and beer. You’ve gotta love the Catholic education system!”

Despite the experience I can’t say hand on heart that I’m a rugby convert now. The All Blacks mauling of the Wallabies brought me crashing back to reality. But Joeys vs. Riverview will definitely be part of an annual pilgrimage now.

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