I was never great at rugby. I loved it, but always found I was lacking the size, ability and bone density to succeed with those that managed to do well.
I was born in 1991, just before the final of the World Cup. My Dad held me while we squeaked out a win over the English and thus his passion for rugby was born.
I guess I was born too but he’s always said he was more excited that we won the World Cup.
His passion flowed into me and I gave it my best nudge. I was at Wests Bulldogs in Brisbane when Michael Hooper was there. We may have crossed paths, I’m not sure. If we did, I’m pretty confident I would’ve outplayed him.
I did my best as a prop-cum-lock-cum-flanker as my puppy fat came off over the years.
It wasn’t until I had to play up a grade that my career took a nosedive. Gents up above didn’t take too kindly to those below them. First training camp, the top flanker for the As decided to spear tackle me as an example to those daring to take their throne. Needless to say, my shoulder didn’t appreciate that, particularly my AC joint.
Fast forward 12 months and I entered another training camp with the same blokes. Different guy, same position (why always the flanker?) and I ended up snapping the head of my humerus. Time to call it a day.
Growing up through those grades, I revelled seeing the guys above me. I look´d skyward to James Horwill as he marched through the tunnel, obliterating those poor 17 and 18-year-olds who questioned how this two-metre-tall giant was still their age.
Then there was Will Genia, sniping and nipping at the heels of any ruck he entered. A danger to any slow forward, of which there were many.
But my first and lasting love was watching the Wallabies with my old man.
We travelled together in 2011 to watch the World Cup quarter-final of Australia versus South Africa. Visiting many a pub to talk rugby with every passing Kiwi. There may have been a few cigars and other things with some South Africans, but I digress.
But, over time, Dad’s love seemed to fade.
I couldn’t convince him to go with me to matches anymore. He became more entrenched with aerial ping-pong than the ding-dong of Test match rugby. Maybe that was due to Australia’s lack of success, something he was not accustomed to after watching the teams of the 1990s and early 2000s.
Whatever it was, I’d lost a rugby mate.
Enter the Bledisloe match just gone.
Once again, I decided to shoot him a text message: “You watching the game?”
Dad: don’t think so. TV isn’t set up. We’ll get creamed anyway.
Me: ye of li’l faith.
Me: sadist. I reckon we’ll go okay.
Dad: well you tell me how it goes.
I think it’s best to continue this article with the text-by-text exchanges between Dad and I during those last, frenetic ten minutes.
Me: f***ing Rob Simmons. Was told to get out of the maul and he didn’t.
They’re going for the three right in front.
This is going to be a draw.
16-16 – one minute to go.
We win the short kick off!
Dad: we have the phase?
Me: tenth phase now we have the penalty.
55 out with Reece Hodge.
Dad: Where’s John Eales?
Me: it went off the f****ing post I don’t believe it!
We have it back! Gotta go for the drop goal.
Nope, we lost it. We should’ve got a penalty!
And now All Blacks have a penalty.
Me: they’re going for the try.
We have it! Now we’re going for it.
We knocked on.
Now they’re going for it.
They’re in our 22. This is bad.
Dad: sh*t, sh*t, sh*t.
Me: they’re ten out
They knocked on!
They stole it back I don’t believe this.
F**k they’re five out.
We have it again!
O’Connor kicks it out. 89 minutes. That was incredible!
Dad: what a match!
Me: you have to watch the highlights.
Dad: mate, I’m going to watch it all. Let’s Skype and watch the one next week.
It hasn’t been a good year by any stretch. And one swallow does not a summer make. But for one brief moment, I’ve got my old rugby mate back. And for me, that’s enough to make this year a good one.
Now to actually win the bloody thing.