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Post-Game Pub: Sevens and the Old Boys

Wednesday Apr 1, 2009 in Magazine

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By David Martin

Old Boy Sevens . . . just think about that phrase. It’s a combination of words that don’t really belong together, sort of like speedy postal worker, computer help desk or military intelligence.

But three years ago, the New York Rugby Club decided after 47 years that they would add an Old Boys Division to their late November New York Sevens Tournament. As captain and boss of the Gentlemen of New York RFC, I was sure I could find at least seven guys to play in a tournament most of them played in years ago. It would be a day of reliving past glories and all that.

I immediately discovered one thing: Getting a team out to play rugby on the Saturday after Thanksgiving isn’t too hard when you’re 29. But when you’re in your 40s, have kids and a wife who is no longer enamored at the prospect of hanging out all day on the sidelines in the wind and cold, playing rugby on the second shopping day of the Christmas season gets harder.

Despite the setbacks, we assembled a full squad—at least on paper—days before the tournament. Then there were the late cancellations due to work, kids, and injuries to those who ran headlong into training two weeks out. But we were ready . . . at least we had more than seven players.

Normally the selection process for a tournament can be tricky, based on who practiced, who was the better player, and who actually made it to the games. For this particular Sevens tournament, here’s how we did it:

Okay, how many players do we have? Six, that’s it . . . oh, I forgot to count myself . . . okay we have seven. Wait, wasn’t Joe from Morris here somewhere . . . okay we have a reserve. Wait, Matt can you play . . . oh, you think you strained your calf this week running? Okay, stay loose and be ready for the second half.

Hey guys, they want us on the field now . . . okay, do we have a play for line-outs? Right Joe, you’re the other prop . . . are you okay on the loose head side? Mike, do you want to really bind in the scrums? Who’s our scrumhalf again? Oh right, Brian.

Since there is no practice in Old Boys Sevens, our pre-game warm-up included a lot of chatter on the way to kick off. And then the game began. I found myself—a lifelong tight five player—in a pair of shorts and one of those new thin microfiber stretch jerseys lined up to play Sevens.It was not my best look.

Our first game was against old rivals, White Plains. Some of the Gents play occasionally with White Plains so it’s a fun match. However, there was no time to make friends. Usually you catch a kick, ruck a little, shove a little, ball comes out, ruck some and then a scrum.

Sevens, I quickly remembered, is completely different. There was a kick, then a pass. Why are they running backward? A pass, another pass, sprinting back to get onside, finally the ball gets kicked out of bounds. Whew, finally. Damn, I am throwing in at the line-outs, no time to rest. Luckily I threw two forward passes before the game started.

The ball goes back in and we start all over again. I am looking for a tackle, a big pileup somewhere, anywhere, but it never comes. Man, I could use a break. How much time is left? Only two minutes have gone by?

Luckily, we scored quickly then they scored. We made our kick though, so we are up. Second half. Replacements have arrived and I am out. I turn to one of my teammates. “Man, that felt like a real half,” I say. “Yep,” he says, “Sevens is different, huh?”

The game ends with us beating White Plains. As luck would have it, our replacements didn’t hold up as well as we had hoped and so I found myself back in the game for the last three minutes. The rest worked and I finished the game running. I turned to a teammate and said, “How did I do?” He said, “You’re still running and we won.” All good.

We played the second game against the Hartford Old Boys. Frankly, they didn’t look that old and they were fast, very fast. Selections were a bit more organized as our full team was present and I was slated for second half play. Fine with me. Unfortunately, Hartford seemed to score every time they touched the ball. We tried to slow them down with a few tackles, some kicks, and a scrum here or there, but basically, it was a rout.

The explanation? They were playing Sevens and we weren’t.

Old boys are, well, old. If they’re 40 or over, chances are they have been playing for over 20 years. That’s 20 years of scrums, tackles, mauls, pulls, tears. At this age, we break down. Especially, it seems, when playing Sevens. I remembered that in Sevens you can’t really hide, like you can in 15s. There’s no one around to cover for you, no place to lower your head and push for a minute, and when you need a minute, there’s to place to take a break. That means lots of injuries and lots of running. Did I mention there’s a lot of running?

The referee said we could have four subs. We didn’t have that many, so went with free substitutions, shuffling guys in and out like we were changing lines in hockey. It helped.

Our third game was against the Lanark Highlander Old Boyz from Ottawa, Canada. We should have beaten them. We didn’t, but it was no blowout. We left it all on the field. I thought I was running like a wing, or at least it felt like it. Being Old Boys we were a bit more organized and the beers were ready immediately.

I thought back to my pre-tournament work-out regime. I had hit the gym a few times each week—the treadmill, the elliptical machine, weights, a squash game. I did that for three weeks prior to the tournament. Okay, really two weeks because the first week I just hit the elliptical machine twice. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken that week off from the end of the season.

If you’re thinking about playing Old Boys Sevens, be prepared. Seven-minute halves, 14 minutes total, a break between games, you figure how tough could it be?

It’s tough. There was a reason why I never played 7s as a young man. I’ve dropped a lot of weight over the past three or four years, so I feel fit for my age and position, but that weekend was a hard reality. I am still no Sevens player.

I talked to the tournament director. We have a new idea for next year. We are thinking about calling it a Clydesdale division. You would have to be over 40 years old, more than 225 pounds or a lifelong forward. This may help, but I think I will play more squash before next year’s tournament, or better yet, lose a few pounds, maybe run some. Perhaps I can talk the director into an over-50 division. There must be a lot more over-50s Sevens players right?

Really Old Boy’s Sevens . . . that sounds much better.

David Martin is a writer who lives with his family in Brooklyn, New York.

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