On a fine crisp Boxing Day afternoon, while others splashed about in the Serpentine or dashed into (and then quickly out of) the sea across the UK, 50 or so rugby players continued the fine tradition re-ignited 5 years ago by Messrs Noden and McCall. This fixture has become inked into the Wilmslow RUFC calendar of late; It’s become an eagerly anticipated chance for old mates to pit their wits against each other, settle some old scores and have an excuse for blowing the froth of a couple of Shandys...or is that just the coaches?
Opposing captains but great mates Robert Taylor and Simon Green who’ve played with each other and against each other for over 15 years led two really well-matched sides. Late import from the Home Counties Oskar Hirskyj-Douglas slotted straight into an intoxicating back line with the Westaway brothers and Harry Patch, surely pound-for-pound the hardest running centre Pownall Park has ever seen. Up front familiar figures fast becoming stalwarts of Wilmslow RUFC slogged it out in a ‘no quarter asked, nor given’ battle. When play came close to the 400-strong crowd it was clear this was a tough and rough encounter; a proper game of rugby.. Green’s side contained those match winners Will Batterbury and Tom Duffy and a sprinkling of young lads who presented themselves with aplomb, no more so than Harry Gardener who was tested numerous times at full back and was never breached directly.
Rhodri Lewis, forced to the touchline through injury cajoled his 9-strong bench to maximum effect but the combined wit of Westaway and Co was too much on three occasions allowing the returnees to notch a 21 unanswered points as half time arrived. Not to be be outdone, Rhodders, Green himself, the combative and concise Chris Taylor together with Pownall Park’s resident pest/cheat Big Shotts briefed their players with the perceived Students’ weaknesses. A new game plan was hastily agreed and it was enacted perfectly with renewed vigour. The Old Boys, galvanised by a gathering collective spirit proved their worth by moving the scoreboard towards parity. One try that typified the rugbyness was Pym’s try on 60 minutes when almost the whole Old Boys side drove the ball over the line. Referee Pemberton was on hand to give a try which was largely about the benefit of the doubt. No sane person would have disallowed it.
This was a proper game of rugby evolving in the welcome, yet unseasonal Boxing Day sunshine in front of an engrossed and engaged crowd full of Turkey, Guinness and expectation...a heady mix.
Into the last 10 minutes, and Oskar showed his class after he and Harry Patch combined to score a length of the field try which dented the Old Boys’ spirit somewhat. A beaming smile came across the satisfied Ric Noden wizened face, patrolling his technical area perhaps for the last time. If it is indeed his last time this will surely be a great shame for rugby in general and Wilmslow RUFC specifically as he understands the game inside and out, understands people, communicates with alacrity and multiplies it all together to great effect. Surely his talents are of worthy somewhere in SK9? So too, McCall: architect, cajoler and purveyor of bonhomie; the personification of rugbness is surely someone whose understanding of God’s game should not lie, languishing in merely insulting referees of a Saturday.
Rugby clubs are about rugby players, always have been and always will be. Every single one of the these players gave their absolute all in an absorbing encounter. It’s such an honour to see them go hammer and tongs at each other all afternoon, reliving their rugby education on muddied fields across the northwest of England as Mini-rugby was their life on a Sunday for so many years. As adults they are a credit to their clubs, their coaches, their schools but most of all themselves.
Let the Boxing Day tradition continue, perhaps with new faces on the pitch and the touchline but the same old values being deployed to ensure our great club records togetherness, with no one left behind.
Happy Christmas to everyone and a thoroughly rugby-filled New year
Updated 14:21 - 7 Jan 2018 by jon hitch